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What are the Vertebral Arteries?

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  • Written By: Christine Hudson
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The vertebral arteries are major arteries in the neck which help to supply blood to significant portions of the brain. These arteries branch off from the subclavian arteries, which are located in the chest and receive blood directly from the aorta of the heart. There is one vertebral artery on each side of the body until they meet inside the skull, at which point they form the basilar artery and deliver blood directly to the brain. This supplies most of the brain with oxygenated blood.

Vertebral artery dissection (VAD) is a known ailment which may occur in the vertebral arteries and lead to aneurysm or stroke if not discovered early. VAD is a more prominent cause of stroke in children and adults under age 45 than in older adults. The risk of VAD may also be increased by smoking, hypertension, or the use of certain oral contraceptives. Strokes resulting from this condition can cause paralysis, loss of motor functions, and other issues. Recovering from these side effects may take months or even years depending on severity.

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Before performing work on the necks of clients who are elderly or have experienced major accidents or trauma, a massage or physical therapist may perform a vertebral artery test. The reason this test is conducted is to determine whether or not these arteries are blocked or occluded. If it is determined that the vertebral arteries are impaired, the therapist may refer the patient to a physician before working with him.

As the vertebral arteries are part of the system which provides the brain with 20% of it's blood, they may cause chronic dizziness or numbness in the neck or arm if they are pinched or shut off. These symptoms may be experienced after an accident or any neck trauma if plaque buildup is present in the vertebral arteries, but they may also appear for no apparent reason at all. When suffering from these symptoms, it is usually recommended that individuals visit a medical professional, as prolonged injury without treatment may cause extensive damage.

Preventative medicine and procedures are typically best to avoid serious conditions in the vertebral arteries. Surgery may be required if fatty deposits, or plaque, are clogging in the arteries and restricting blood flow. The surgical procedures are extreme measures, but allow the arteries to be cleaned of the plaque and blood flow to be restored. Other preventative measures may include dietary changes and medication.

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