Percutaneous transluminal angioplasty for intracranial atherosclerotic lesions: evolution of technique and short-term results

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Object. A retrospective analysis of a 9-year experience with balloon angioplasty for intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis was undertaken with the goals of illustrating development of a safe technique for treatment of intracranial atherosclerotic disease and reporting the immediate results in this series of patients.

Methods. Three distinct periods are defined, based on the technique used. In the early period, in which eight patients were treated, the angioplasty balloon size approximated the vessel size, but was always smaller. Angioplasty was moderately rapid and brief (15–30 seconds). Clinical improvement occurred in seven (87.5%) of eight patients, dissection without consequence occurred in four (50%) of eight, and residual stenosis greater than 50% was found in three (37.5%) of eight. No neurological complications occurred.

In the middle period, in which 12 patients were treated, the balloon size approximated the vessel size, but oversizing by up to 0.25 mm was permitted. Angioplasty was extremely rapid and brief. Angiographically visible dissection occurred in nine (75%) of 12 patients, necessitating urokinase infusion in five (41.7%) of 12 and producing abrupt occlusion in one (8.3%) of 12, resulting in death. Occlusion secondary to the recrossing of the lesion occurred in one (8.3%) of 12, resulting in stroke. Good outcome was eventually achieved in 10 (83.3%) of 12.

In the current period, in which 50 patients have been treated, the balloon is always undersized and inflation is extremely slow (several minutes). Dissection occurred in seven (14%) of 50 patients, necessitating fibrinolysis in two of 50 (4%, both uneventful) and producing no abrupt occlusion or stroke. Residual stenosis greater than 50% occurred in eight (16%) of 50, with no stenosis greater than 70%. Late restenosis occurred in four (9%) of 44 and successful repeated angioplasty was performed in all four. One guidewire vessel perforation occurred (2%), resulting in the patient's death. Good angiographic and short-term clinical outcome was achieved in the other 49 patients (98%).

Conclusions. Extremely slow balloon inflation combined with balloon undersizing results in decreased intimal damage, decreased acute platelet/thrombus deposition, and decreased acute closure. This technique sometimes yields suboptimal angiographic results but achieves the clinical goal safely. Intracranial angioplasty can be safely performed using this technique and modern equipment.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: J. J. Connors III, M.D., Department of Radiology, INOVA Fairfax Hospital, 3300 Gallows Road, Falls Church, Virginia 22046. email: budmancon@aol.com.
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