Retropharyngeal hematoma following blunt cervical spine injury is a known cause of airway obstruction, but it is not known to cause hemorrhagic shock. We report the case of a massive retropharyngeal hematoma caused by a blunt vertebral artery transection leading simultaneously to airway obstruction and hemorrhagic shock.
An 83-year-old woman was injured in a motorcycle accident. In the field, the patient exhibited paradoxical breathing with no breath sounds, and her blood pressure could not be measured. Therefore, emergency intubation and fluid resuscitation were initiated and the patient was transferred to the emergency department. Computed tomography angiography revealed a massive retropharyngeal hematoma with contrast extravasation from the right vertebral artery, which caused airway obstruction and hemorrhagic shock. The right vertebral artery was transected at the C5 level, which was associated with C4/C5 dislocation. Vertebral artery transection was successfully treated by endovascular embolization, which was followed by complication of asymptomatic posterior circulation stroke.
Blunt vertebral artery transection can cause massive retropharyngeal hematoma, which can rapidly expand and lead to hemorrhagic shock in addition to airway obstruction. In cases of massive retropharyngeal hematoma with hemorrhagic shock following blunt cervical spine injury, blunt vertebral artery transection should be suspected. If blunt vertebral artery transection is detected and hemorrhagic shock is persistent, endovascular embolization should be performed immediately in addition to emergency intubation.