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Elisabeth Berg-Dammer, Hans Henkes, Werner Weber, Peter Berlit and Dietmar Kühne

Circumscribed stenotic lesions of the intracranial arteries can cause cerebral ischemia by hemodynamic and/or thromboembolic mechanisms. Anticoagulation therapy, antiplatelet therapy, and bypass surgery are treatment strategies that have no direct impact on the underlying lesion. This study summarizes the experience of a single institution at which percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTA) of intracranial atherosclerotic stenoses was performed.

The authors performed a retrospective analysis of 24 consecutive patients. Their medical histories (cardiovascular risk factors, current clinical signs and symptoms and their duration, previous stroke[s], and medical treatment) were evaluated together with findings from previous imaging studies. The site and degree of the stenoses to be treated (target lesion) were identified with the use of ultrasound and angiography studies. Additional vascular stenoses were noted. Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty was performed using single-lumen balloon microcatheters with appropriate diameters. The results of PTA were correlated with angiographic and ultrasound findings and the clinical outcome.

Significant cardiovascular risk factors and clinical signs and symptoms related to the target lesion that persisted despite medical treatment were identified in all patients except one. The duration of symptoms varied from several days to 8 months. Previous stroke had occurred in four patients. The degree of stenosis was classified as “high grade” in 10 patients and as “subtotal” in 14. The target lesion (stenosis) was located in the anterior circulation in eight patients (four in the internal carotid and four in the middle cerebral arteries). Stenoses of posterior circulation vessels were treated in 16 patients (nine vertebral, six basilar, and one posterior cerebral arteries). Recanalization was rated “complete” in 15 patients and sufficient in six patients. In three patients residual stenosis remained. Complications were encountered in seven patients: two asymptomatic dissections, one transient vessel occlusion, one vessel occlusion with subsequent stroke, and three ischemic lesions likely due to thromboembolism, two of which caused only transient neurological symptoms.

Percutaneous balloon dilation proved effective in the treatment of intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis. There are, however, potential complications and experience with this procedure is only limited. Long-term results need to be determined. The authors conclude from their preliminary results that PTA may be an alternative to bypass surgery and conservative management and may be considered for patients in whom ischemic neurological symptoms persist despite medical treatment.