Cerebral venous thrombosis: Diagnosis and management in the emergency department setting

Anthony Spadaro, Kevin R Scott, Alex Koyfman, Brit Long
American Journal of Emergency Medicine 2021 March 16, 47: 24-29

INTRODUCTION: Cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) is an uncommon neurologic emergency associated with significant morbidity and mortality that can be difficult to differentiate from other conditions. It is important for the emergency clinician to be familiar with this disease as it requires a high index of suspicion, and early diagnosis and management can lead to improved outcomes.

OBJECTIVE: This narrative review provides an evidence-based update concerning the presentation, evaluation, and management of CVT for the emergency clinician.

DISCUSSION: CVT is due to thrombosis of the cerebral veins resulting in obstruction of venous outflow and increased intracranial pressure. Early recognition is important but difficult as the clinical presentation can mimic more common disease patterns. The most common patient population affected includes women under the age of 50. Risk factors for CVT include pregnancy, medications (oral contraceptives), inherited thrombophilia, prior venous thromboembolic event, malignancy, recent infection, and neurosurgery. CVT can present in a variety of ways, but the most common symptom is headache, followed by focal neurologic deficit, seizure, and altered mental status. Imaging studies such as computed tomography (CT) venography or magnetic resonance (MR) venography should be obtained in patients with concern for CVT, as non-contrast CT will be normal or have non-specific findings in most patients. Treatment includes anticoagulation, treating seizures and elevated ICP aggressively, and neurosurgical or interventional radiology consultation in select cases.

CONCLUSIONS: CVT can be a challenging diagnosis. Knowledge of the risk factors, patient presentation, evaluation, and management can assist emergency clinicians.

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