Intracranial Stenosis

Intracranial stenosis is characterized by the narrowing of an artery in the brain, which can lead to a stroke. Arteries can become narrow or obstructed by a buildup of fatty deposits called plaque, a process called atherosclerosis. There are four arteries that are most commonly affected by Intracranial Stenosis:

  • Internal carotid artery (ICA)
  • Middle cerebral artery (MCA)
  • Vertebral arteries
  • Basilar artery

A stroke occurs when plaque fully obstructs an artery and the area of the brain it supplies is deprived of blood. This can lead to serious lasting damage and can kill nerves in the brain. Strokes can lead to loss of function, effectively causing paralysis to the area that part of the brain is meant to control.

Symptoms of Intracranial Stenosis

The primary indication of intracranial stenosis commonly presents itself in the form of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ischemic stroke. Symptoms occur suddenly, and time is vital. If you notice one or more of these signs in another person or in yourself, do not wait to seek help, call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice:

  • Sudden numbness of the face, arm, or leg, on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Sudden trouble speaking
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Sudden difficulty walking
  • Dizziness, loss of coordination
  • Sudden, intense headache

Causes and Risk Factors

Plaque buildup occurs gradually over time and can begin in early adulthood, but symptoms may not be evident for many years. African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics are the most commonly affected populations. There are risk factors that contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and intracranial stenosis, they are as follows:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Age
  • Moyamoya disease
  • Arterial dissection


This condition is often discovered after a stroke has occurred, which is a strong indication that something has obstructed blood flow to the brain. After exploring your medical history, the diagnosis of intracranial stenosis usually begins with a physical exam.

Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can be used to get a better visual of the obstruction and provide a more accurate diagnosis. Transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasound or an angiogram can be used to examine blood vessels and blood flow.

Treating Intracranial Stenosis

Treatment of intracranial stenosis will depend on what stage of the condition you have experienced. There are three categories that a patient can fall into. There is stroke prevention (you have not had a stroke yet), next is the treatment for recent stroke victims, lastly is post-stroke rehabilitation.

Stroke prevention patients will be recommended a surgical procedure known as angioplasty, with or without stenting, performed to widen the narrowed artery and restore proper blood flow. This will allow the blood to flow better to the brain and decrease the chance of having future strokes.

Recent stroke victims, intracranial stenosis will be treated along with the effects of the stroke and may be treated with blood thinner medications to allow the blood to flow better in the clogged artery..

Post-stroke rehabilitation, physical therapy is often a key component of the treatment plan. These therapies help patients to restore muscle movement, coordination, and balance that may have been compromised due to the stroke.

Intracranial Stenosis Treatment at the University of Illinois Neurosurgery Department

Our team of industry-leading neurosurgeons specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of rare and complex neurological conditions and disorders. Our team uses non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to access the adequacy of blood flow in the vessels in the brain. This helps monitor the extension of intracranial stenosis and response to treatment. We often treat patients who have been unable to receive the care they truly need. If you are suffering from a complex neurological condition, refer to our contact page to correspond with a member of our team for a consultation!