Completion of the Circle of Willis Varies by Gender, Age, and Indication for Computed Tomography Angiography

Orel A. Zaninovich, Wyatt L. Ramey, Christina M. Walter, Travis M. Dumont

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Objective The circle of Willis (CoW) is the foremost anastomosis and blood distribution center of the brain. Its effectiveness depends on its completion and the size and patency of its vessels. Gender-related and age-related anatomic variations in the CoW may play an important role in the pathogenesis of cerebrovascular diseases. In this study, we analyzed computed tomography angiograms (CTAs) to assess for differences in CoW completion related to gender, age, and indication for CTA. Methods A total of 834 CTAs were retrospectively analyzed for all CoW vessels to compare the incidence of complete CoW and variation frequency based on gender, age, and indication. Results The incidence of complete CoW was 37.1% overall. CoW completion showed a statistically significant decrease with increasing age for all age groups in both men (47.0%, 29.4%, 18.8%) and women (59.1%, 44.2%, 30.9%). Completion was greater in women (43.8%) than in men (31.2%) overall and for all age groups. These gender differences were all statistically significant except for the 18–39 years age group. The most frequent of the 28 CoW variations were absent posterior communicating artery (PCOM) bilaterally (17.1%), right PCOM (15.3%), and left PCOM (10.9%). Ischemic stroke and the 18–39 years age group of hemorrhagic stroke showed a statistically significant reduction in completion relative to trauma. Conclusions The incidence of complete CoW is likely greater in women for all age groups and likely decreases with age in both genders. The most frequently absent vessel is likely the PCOM, either unilaterally or bilaterally. Completion may play a role in ischemic stroke and a subset of patients with hemorrhagic stroke.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)953-963
Number of pages11
JournalWorld neurosurgery
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Age
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Circle of Willis
  • Gender
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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