Cavernous sinus thrombosis is usually caused by the spread of bacteria from infections of the face and orbit (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 after-effects or be fatal.
High doses of antibiotics are given to eliminate the infection.
(See also Introduction to Eye Socket Disorders Introduction to Eye Socket Disorders The eye sockets (orbits) are bony cavities that contain and protect the eyes and their supporting structures (see figures An Inside Look at the Eye and Structures That Protect the Eye). Disorders... read more .)
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).
Cavernous sinus thrombosis (CST) can affect the cranial nerves Overview of the Cranial Nerves Twelve pairs of nerves—the cranial nerves—lead directly from the brain to various parts of the head, neck, and trunk. Some of the cranial nerves are involved in the special senses (such as seeing... read more that move the eyes and supply sensation to the face. CST can also lead to an infection of the brain and the fluid around the meninges (meningoencephalitis), brain abscess, stroke Overview of Stroke A stroke occurs when an artery to the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, resulting in death of an area of brain tissue due to loss of its blood supply (cerebral infarction) and symptoms that... read more , blindness, and an underactive 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 ).
Cavernous sinus thrombosis 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 , 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 serious.
Cavernous sinus thrombosis causes symptoms such as abnormally bulging eyes (proptosis Eyes, Bulging Bulging or protruding of one or both eyes is called proptosis or exophthalmos. Exophthalmos is usually used when describing bulging eyes caused by Graves disease, a disorder causing overactivity... read more ) that occurs over days, swelling of the eyelid, severe headache, facial pain or numbness, impaired eye movements (ophthalmoplegia) with double vision, loss of vision, drowsiness, a high fever, and excessively dilated or uneven pupils. If bacteria spread to the brain, more severe drowsiness, seizures, coma, and abnormal sensations or muscle weakness in certain areas may develop.
To diagnose cavernous sinus thrombosis, doctors 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. To identify the bacteria, 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 may also be done.
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 after-effects (such as impaired eye movements and double vision, blindness, disability due to stroke, and hypopopituitarism), which may be permanent.
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.