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Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

By

Richard C. Allen

, MD, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Medically Reviewed Oct 2022
VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION

Cavernous sinus thrombosis is a very rare disorder in which a blood clot (thrombosis) forms in the cavernous sinus (a large vein at the base of the skull).

  • Cavernous sinus thrombosis is usually caused by the spread of bacteria from infections of the face (including the skin of the nose), orbit, or sinus.

  • Symptoms include head and facial pain, visual disturbances, rapidly bulging eyes, and high fever.

  • The diagnosis is based on symptoms and the results of magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography.

  • Even with treatment, the disorder can result in severe aftereffects or be fatal.

  • High doses of antibiotics are given to eliminate the infection.

The cavernous sinus is a large vein at the base of the skull, behind the eyes. This vein drains blood from veins in the face. The cavernous sinus is not one of the air-filled sinuses around the nose (the nasal sinuses).

Causes of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

Cavernous sinus thrombosis (CST) is usually caused by the spread of bacteria (usually Staphylococcus aureus) from a facial, dental, or nasal sinus infection. CST can be caused by common facial infections, such as small nasal boils around hair follicles (furuncles), orbital cellulitis Orbital Cellulitis Orbital cellulitis is infection affecting the tissue within the orbit and around and behind the eye. Infection can spread to the orbit from sources such as the sinuses around the nose. Symptoms... read more Orbital Cellulitis , or sinusitis Sinusitis Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, most commonly caused by a viral or bacterial infection or by an allergy. Some of the most common symptoms of sinusitis are pain, tenderness, nasal congestion... read more of the sphenoid or ethmoid sinuses. Because CST is a possible complication, doctors always consider infections in the area around the nose to the rims of the eyes to be serious.

Symptoms of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

Cavernous sinus thrombosis causes symptoms such as

If bacteria spread to the brain, more severe drowsiness, seizures, coma, and abnormal sensations or muscle weakness in certain areas may develop.

Diagnosis of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

  • Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography

  • Blood culture

  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

To diagnose cavernous sinus thrombosis, doctors usually do magnetic resonance imaging Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) A variety of tests can be done to confirm an eye problem or to determine the extent or severity of an eye disorder. Each eye is tested separately. In general, angiography involves injecting... read more (MRI) or computed tomography Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) A variety of tests can be done to confirm an eye problem or to determine the extent or severity of an eye disorder. Each eye is tested separately. In general, angiography involves injecting... read more (CT) of the nasal sinuses, eyes, and brain. Sometimes MRI or CT is done after a contrast agent is injected into the bloodstream to show more detail. Contrast-enhanced MR venogram (MRV) or CT venogram (in which a contrast agent is given intravenously to outline the veins) is more sensitive. To identify the bacteria causing the disorder, a blood sample is sent to a laboratory to be cultured Diagnosis of Infectious Disease Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Doctors suspect an infection based on the person's symptoms, physical examination results,... read more . A spinal tap Spinal Tap Diagnostic procedures may be needed to confirm a diagnosis suggested by the medical history and neurologic examination. Electroencephalography (EEG) is a simple, painless procedure in which... read more Spinal Tap may also be done.

Prognosis for Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

Even with antibiotic treatment, cavernous sinus thrombosis can still be life threatening. About 15 to 20% of all affected people die. Another 40% develop serious aftereffects such as impaired eye movements and double vision, blindness, stroke, and symptoms due to decreased levels of hormones from the pituitary gland (hypopituitarism Hypopituitarism Hypopituitarism is an underactive pituitary gland that results in deficiency of one or more pituitary hormones. Symptoms of hypopituitarism depend on what hormone is deficient and may include... read more ), which may be permanent.

Treatment of Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis

  • Antibiotics by vein

  • Surgery to drain infection

  • Corticosteroids and other supplemental hormones

High doses of antibiotics given by vein (intravenously) are started immediately in people with cavernous sinus thrombosis. The infected nasal sinus may be drained surgically, particularly if the person does not improve after 24 hours of antibiotic treatment.

Corticosteroids are sometimes given if the cranial nerves are affected. Corticosteroids and usually other supplemental hormones are given if there is hypopituitarism.

It is not clear whether some people benefit from treatment with anticoagulants (drugs that prevent new blood clots from forming and established blood clots from growing).

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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