What Is Vertebrobasilar Ischemia?

Marty Paule

Vertebrobasilar ischemia, which is also referred to as vertebrobasilar insufficiency (VBI) and commonly called "beauty parlor syndrome" (BPS), describes a range of conditions that cut off the blood supply to the back of the brain. These conditions can have a negative effect on automatic brain functions such as respiration. The causes of vertebrobasilar ischemia are sometimes the result of certain diseases, or of a stroke or other trauma that produces artery-wall tears. While there are many symptoms associated with vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders, finding the condition's underlying cause may not always be possible. Treatments include lifestyle changes, drug therapy, and chiropractic or osteopathic care.

MRI and CT scans of the brain can help diagnose vetebrobasilar ischemia.
MRI and CT scans of the brain can help diagnose vetebrobasilar ischemia.

The primary concern with vertebrobasilar ischemia is the risk of stroke and its complications. These can include blood clots in the legs, motor and sensory dysfunctions, heart attack, lung infections, and respiratory failure. VBI can also lead to loss of vision in one eye. A neurologist first described VBI after studying the cases of five women who experienced strokes while having their hair washed. The strokes were triggered by arterial tears caused by distortion and over-extension of the womens' necks while using hair salon wash basins. Tears in the carotid or vertebral arteries resulted in blood clots that ultimately produced the strokes.

Smoking cessation might be part of the treatment for vertebrobasilar ischemia.
Smoking cessation might be part of the treatment for vertebrobasilar ischemia.

Those people most vulnerable to arterial tears are at greatest risk for vertebrobasilar ischemia. Smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and advanced age are all criteria that can lead to VBI. Some of the most common symptoms of vertebrobasilar ischemia include an unsteady gait, vertigo, swallowing difficulty, nausea and vomiting, neck ache, and slurred speech. Other indicators include headache, weak muscles, loss of vision or double vision, and bladder- or bowel-control issues. Diagnostic tools used to identify the underlying cause of VBI include computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, electrocardiograms, and ultrasound or X-ray studies of the brain's arteries.

If VBI symptoms are the result of postural factors, patients are given counseling on improving posture and rising safely from a seated or prone position. The patient may also be given an exercise regimen to improve circulation and flexibility. Smoking cessation and dehydration avoidance counseling are also important lifestyle issues. Osteopathic or chiropractic treatment can also be helpful in addressing postural problems that may contribute to a diminished supply of blood to the brain. Treatment of underlying diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, are also addressed with prescription drugs and lifestyle changes.

Vertebrobasilar ischemia may be triggered by an over-extension of a person's neck while using a hair salon wash basin.
Vertebrobasilar ischemia may be triggered by an over-extension of a person's neck while using a hair salon wash basin.

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