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What Is a Carotid-Cavernous Fistula?

By Steven Symes
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A carotid-cavernous fistula is a vascular disorder in the cavernous sinus region of the skull. The difference in the blood pressure between the arteries and the veins behind the eye leads to a buildup of blood in a person’s eye. If detected early, the condition can be easily treated with an endoscopic procedure, but if left untreated it can eventually lead to blindness. The causes of the condition vary from traumatic events to naturally-occurring anatomical abnormalities in some people’s physiology.

Symptoms of the condition manifest themselves in and around the eye that the effected arteries and blood vessels connect to. A patient who suffers from the condition may experience sensitivity and redness around the eye, as well as redness and bulging in the eye. The gradual loss of sight in one eye, as well as a humming sound inside the skull also might indicate that a patient suffers from a carotid-cavernous fistula

In the early stages, a carotid-cavernous fistula often can be misdiagnosed by doctors. The symptoms of the condition can be similar to thyroid eye disease or conjunctivitis. Performing an MRI or CT angiogram scan on a patient can help detect the condition early, increasing the chance of a correct diagnosis and no long-term effects as a result.

Treating a carotid-cavernous fistula is most successful when the condition is diagnosed and treated early. A patient’s eye might suffer irreversible damage if the condition is not treated early enough, possibly leading to blindness in the effected eye. Endoscopic treatments can help reverse damage to the arteries or modify their physiology, correcting the condition before permanent damage is done to the eye tissue.

The condition may develop after a patient suffers a sudden, traumatic event. Violent episodes, such as a car accident or physical assault on the patient, might cause damage to the vascular system. Suffering a sudden rupturing of an artery aneurysm can also damage the arteries and lead to the development of carotid-cavernous fistula. Neurosurgical or neuroradiological procedures might also result in damage to the arteries, causing the condition to develop in a patient.

A patient might not suffer a traumatic event and still develop a carotid-cavernous fistula. Some people are born with a vascular system configuration that leads to blood buildup in the eye. Other people might develop the condition later in life as additional passageways between the arteries and eye’s blood vessels develop, increasing the flow of blood to the eye.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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