Dural Sinus Thrombosis and Stroke

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If you have been diagnosed with a dural sinus thrombosis, you may have some questions about what to expect. Here are some answers to your questions about dural sinus thrombosis.

Preparing for the scan
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Dural Sinus Overview

A dural sinus is a type of blood vessel, and, despite the name, it is not related to the sinuses that we think of when we think of stuffiness and sinus congestion.

The brain has a system of veins by which oxygen-depleted blood is channeled back to the lungs, where it can once again be repleted with oxygen. This system of veins is a web of small vessels that receive oxygen-depleted blood from all over the brain.

As the veins travel away from the brain's tissues, they fuse to form larger vessels that gather between the brain and the skull bone to form what is called the "dural sinuses." The dural sinuses are the largest vessels through which blood flows out of the brain, on its way back to the lungs. There are a number of dural sinuses, and they are called:

  • Superior and inferior sagittal sinus
  • Superior and inferior petrosal sinus
  • Transverse sinus
  • Sigmoid sinus
  • Straight sinus
  • Cavernous sinus
  • Confluence of sinuses

Dural Sinus Thrombosis?

A thrombosis is a blood clot. A dural sinus thrombosis is a blood clot inside of one of the dural sinuses.

How It Can Cause a Stroke

When a blood clot forms inside one of the brain's dural sinuses, it causes a backup of blood inside the venous system of the brain, preventing blood from leaving the brain's tissues. In early stages, this may not be a problem, because the small veins have some room to enlarge in order to accommodate the extra blood.

But as time goes on and new oxygen-rich blood continues to enter the brain's tissues through the arteries, the excess build-up of blood may begin to cause pressure on the walls of the arteries until they burst, and bleed inside the brain. This causes a hemorrhagic stroke.


One of the known features of dural sinus thrombosis is that it can cause symptoms ranging from a headache to a sudden and complete paralysis of one side of the body.

  • More than 90% of people with dural sinus thrombosis complain of severe headaches
  • 50% have typical stroke symptoms
  • Approximately 40% of dural sinus thromboses cause seizures
  • A person who has a dural sinus thrombosis can also experience memory loss or can stop speaking unexpectedly, depending on the specific dural sinus affected

When a dural sinus thrombosis only causes headaches and blurry vision, it may be confused with a condition known as benign intracranial hypertension, also known as pseudotumor cerebri.


If you go to the emergency room with any of these symptoms, you should expect to have a full neurological exam and a brain CT scan. The CT scan is a relatively fast diagnostic test that can show areas of bleeding inside the brain.

If there is bleeding, surgery to drain the blood may be an option. However, in order to diagnose a dural sinus thrombosis, doctors must perform a test known as magnetic resonance venography or MRV, a diagnostic imaging test which is similar to a conventional MRI, but which specifically shows blood inside the veins of the brain and the skull.

When MRV is not available, a CT angiography can also be used to visualize the dural sinuses.


  • Surgical treatments: When dural sinus thrombosis causes a large amount of bleeding inside the brain, surgery may be necessary to remove the blood. Bleeding in the brain can lead to compression of vital structures in the brain, causing permanent disability and possibly even death.
  • Medical treatments: If you have been diagnosed with dural sinus thrombosis, you may receive long-term treatment with blood thinners, such as heparin, coumadin, or Lovenox. These medications are given in order to prevent the enlargement of the blood clot inside the affected dural sinus and to prevent the formation of new blood clots which could lead to new and possibly worse strokes.

In some cases, increased intracranial pressure from large strokes requires the induction of hypothermia or cooling of the body's temperature, which helps to prevent further damage to the brain. Some experimental treatments are also available in selected hospitals across the country, in which blood clots can be broken up inside the affected sinus using special endovascular thrombolysis techniques.​​

Who Is at Risk?

Eighty-five percent of people who are diagnosed with dural sinus thrombosis have a predisposition to forming blood clots. Some of the conditions or events that make people more likely to form blood clots include:

  • Head injury
  • The last three months of pregnancy​
  • Shortly before, during or after delivering a baby
  • The use of birth control pills
  • Lumbar punctures (spinal taps)
  • Infections, especially in the face, eyes or ears
  • Blood disorders that lead to stroke

A Word From Verywell

Dural sinus thrombosis is not common, and if you or a loved one has had a dural sinus thrombosis, it is likely that you have been diagnosed with a stroke. Dural sinus thrombosis is a type of stroke. Most people have a good recovery after a dural sinus thrombosis and require a thorough evaluation to identify and treat blood disorders that may have led to dural sinus thrombosis.

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