Blunt injury to the carotid or vertebral arteries (BCVI) is relatively uncommon, but potentially very deadly. Up to 2% of patients with high energy blunt trauma suffer this injury. Many are not diagnosed until the patient has ischemic symptoms or a stroke. However, more aggressive screening has shown a higher incidence that previously thought and may allow intervention before neurologic injury occurs.
Recently, a series of 222 patients with 263 BCVI was retrospectively reviewed, with an eye toward effectiveness of interventions. A total of 29 strokes occurred in the hospital in these patients, but only 7 of these occurred after diagnosis of the BCVI. Mortality was much higher in the stroke group (34% vs 7%). The authors looked at both medical and interventional therapies.
This paper identified the following items:
- Car crash was the most common mechanism of injury (81%)
- Vertebral arterial injury was slightly more common than carotid artery BUT
- Women were much more likely to sustain a carotid injury
- Older patients were more likely to have a vertebral injury
These authors found that CT angio was not sufficiently sensitive to identify all BCVI. They recommend a formal 4-vessel arteriogram in patients with a negative CT angio who have significant risk factors (unexplained neurologic deficit, Horner’s syndrome, LeFort II or III injury, cervical spine injury, soft tissue injury of the neck).
If a BCVI is identified, the patient should be heparinized until all other injuries are definitively managed. At that point, they should be preloaded with clopidogrel and aspirin and a repeat arteriogram should be performed. Endovascular stenting using a bare metal stent should be performed when possible because it results in the lowest stroke rate and requires the shortest duration of anti-platelet therapies. Patients then continue on aspirin and clopidogrel for an appropriate period of time.
Reference: Optimal outcomes for patients with blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCVI): tailoring treatment to the lesion. J Am Coll Surg 212(4):549-559, 2011.