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Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis: a diagnostic challenge

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Background: Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVT) is a potentially serious but treatable disorder that has been underdiagnosed in the past. Delay in diagnosis and treatment of this disorder has resulted in the death of one of our patients.

Aim: To review the local experience with CVT in order to identify factors that may allow diagnosis and appropriate treatment decisions to be made more readily in the future.

Methods: A retrospective review of all cases of CVT diagnosed or treated at Auckland Hospital between 1990 and 1999.

Results: Twenty-five cases of CVT were identified. The number of cases diagnosed increased from less than one per year in 1990–94 to eight in 1999. Clinical signs at presentation included headache (96%), focal neurological deficits (60%), seizures (40%) and papilloedema (43%). Delayed diagnosis after admission to hospital occurred in two young women presenting with neurological symptoms during pregnancy or puerperium, in two cases in whom focal symptoms were not explained by negative computed tomography and in five cases presenting with intracerebral haemorrhage. Twenty patients received anticoagulant therapy and their condition remained stable or improved after treatment.

Conclusions: The diagnosis of CVT should be considered in women with any neurological symptoms during pregnancy or puerperium and in all cases of unexplained intracerebral haemorrhage. CVT should also be considered in cases of recent onset and progressive headache, particularly when associated with focal neurological symptoms or signs, seizures or papilloedema. Magnetic resonance imaging with magnetic resonance venography is the investigation of choice. Anticoagulation with heparin remains the mainstay of treatment, even in the presence of intracerebral haemorrhage. (Intern Med J 2001; 31: 384–390)
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Keywords: cerebral thrombosis; diagnosis; headache; heparin; intracranial; sinus thrombosis

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-09-01

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