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A review of the experience with penetrating wounds to the carotid artery was undertaken in an effort to establish concise clinical criteria for surgical management. These results were compared with similar cases from the literature reported since 1963. In these 233 cases, the presence or absence of preoperative neurological deficits was correlated with vascular repair or ligation of the carotid artery.The presence of coma preopcratively was the single most influential factor in determining operative management and prognosis. Patients without a neurological defect should have restoration of vascular continuity (0% mortality, 0.6% morbidity), which produces significantly better results than carotid ligation (p < 0.002). Patients with all grades of neurological deficit, short of coma, should also have primary vascular repair. Morbidity and mortality rates are significantly less than those following ligation (15 vs. 50%, p < 0.05). In comatose patients, neither repair nor ligation appear to influence the poor prognosis. At the present time, ligation of the carotid artery is only indicated in the comatose patient who has no evidence of pro-grade flow or if repair is technically impossible.