Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders: Symptoms and causes

Symptoms of restricted blood flow to the back of the brain, also called vertebrobasilar insufficiency, include dizziness and slurred speech.

If something stops or disrupts blood flow to an area of the body, it is known as ischemia. When this happens to the brain, it can damage brain cells and result in health problems.

In this article, we look at vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders, how to spot telltale symptoms, and what causes these conditions.

Causes of vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders

There are various reasons why a person might not have enough blood reaching their brain. Causes include:

  • narrowing of blood vessels
  • blocked blood vessel
  • blood clot
  • ruptured blood vessel

Atherosclerosis is a common cause of narrow or blocked blood vessels. Atherosclerosis is the medical term for a buildup of a fatty substance, known as plaque, in the arteries.

Plaque is mostly made up of cholesterol and calcium, which cause the arteries to harden. This hardening and buildup of plaque happen gradually over time.

As well as narrowing blood vessels, plaque can break away and travel in the blood to block a vein or artery elsewhere in the body.

Symptoms of poor blood flow to the brain

Symptoms of reduced blood flow to the brain can be similar to those of stroke.

A person should seek immediate medical attention if they experience these symptoms. Quick treatment may reduce the damage done and can help with recovery.

Key symptoms include:

  • slurred speech
  • sudden weakness in the limbs
  • difficulty swallowing
  • loss of balance or feeling unbalanced
  • partial or complete loss of vision or double vision
  • dizziness or a spinning sensation
  • numbness or a tingling feeling
  • confusion
  • vomiting or nausea

These symptoms may be ongoing or last only briefly.

Narrow or blocked blood vessels do not always present symptoms.

It is not always possible to prevent vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders. Some risk factors are unavoidable, and others are related to lifestyle.

Risk factors include:

  • sex
  • age
  • family history and genetics
  • high blood pressure
  • artery disease
  • smoking
  • inactivity and obesity

A person who has a vertebrobasilar condition may choose to make specific lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of stroke. Quitting smoking, eating a healthful diet to lower cholesterol, and doing regular exercise can all help.

A doctor may also prescribe medication to help lower cholesterol or control high blood pressure.

There are several possible treatment options for vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders. These include:

  • medications to treat narrowed arteries if this is the cause of symptoms
  • surgery in occasional cases with complete blockage or severe narrowing

Despite the occasional use of surgery, studies show mixed results, regarding its benefits in vertebrobasilar insufficiency.

The main aim of medication to treat a narrowing or stenosis of a blood vessel is to reduce the risk of stroke. A doctor can prescribe medication to:

  • thin the blood and prevent blood clots
  • reduce cholesterol
  • manage high blood pressure


People who have vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders have a higher risk of stroke. A person who has had a previous stroke or TIA is more likely to experience one again. For this reason, lifestyle changes and preventive medication are crucial.

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders mostly affect older adults. Being aware of the symptoms, as a person ages, can be lifesaving.

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