Cervical (Carotid or Vertebral) Artery Dissection | MedStar Health

A tear in the arteries of the neck

This is a condition in which there is a tear in the wall of one of the four main arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain. These arteries are:

  • Carotid arteries: These two arteries run along each side of the neck. Carotid artery dissectionis one of the most common causes of stroke in people younger than 50.

  • Vertebral arteries: The two arteries are located in the back of the neck near the spine. Vertebral artery dissection is the less common of the two cervical artery dissections.

When a tear occurs, blood leaks through and spreads between the other layers of the artery’s wall. As blood collects, a clot forms and can block blood flow to the brain and can result in a stroke.


Symptoms can develop over a period of hours, days, or weeks and may include:

  • Blindness in the eye
  • Headache
  • Neck and face pain
  • Pulsatile tinnitus, a pulsing or whooshing sound in one of the ears
  • Trouble speaking
  • Vision problems such as double vision or a droopy eyelid
  • Weakness on one side of the body


Trauma to the neck, such as from a car accident, fall, or overextension during physical activity, can cause cervical artery dissection.

There are also certain factors that put you at increased risk, including:


Carotid Duplex Ultrasound

Carotid duplex ultrasound uses Doppler and traditional ultrasound to assess blood flow in the arteries that supply blood to your brain.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology used to create images of your heart and blood vessels.


Preventing stroke is our primary goal when treating a cervical artery dissection. Treatment may vary depending on whether you have an underlying condition that contributed to the dissection. Options may include medication to prevent blood clots or minimally invasive techniques such as stenting to repair the tear.

Carotid Artery Stenting (CAS)

Carotid artery stenting is a minimally invasive procedure in which a small mesh tube is placed in a narrowed artery to support and keep it open.

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