Computed Tomographic Angiography as a Screening Modality for Blunt Cervical Arterial Injuries: Preliminary Results

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The diagnosis of blunt cervical arterial injury (CAI) is made difficult by its infrequent occurrence and delayed presentation. Beginning in January of 1995, we used computed tomographic angiography (CTA) of the neck to screen for CAI. We hypothesized that CTA could be incorporated into the workup of patients sustaining blunt neck injury as a screening modality for CAI and that CTA would increase the early detection of CAI.


Retrospective review of all CAI for the years January of 1988 to June of 1997 at a Level I trauma center. CAI diagnosed before introduction of CTA (pre-CTA; January of 1988 to December of 1994) were compared with those after (post-CTA; January of 1995 to June of 1997).


The overall incidence of CAI for the entire time period was 0.11%. Motor vehicle crash (53%) was the most common mechanism, with focal neurologic deficit (23%) or seizures (17.6%) the most common presenting clinical symptoms. CTA added only a few additional minutes to the time required for the workup of patients sustaining blunt neck injury in whom CAI was suspected. The incidence of CAI increased from 0.06% pre-CTA to 0.19% post-CTA (p = 0.02; Fisher exact test). CTA was associated with a decrease in mean time to make the diagnosis of CAI (156 hours pre-CTA vs. 5.9 hours post-CTA). In addition, CTA was associated with a decrease in the incidence of permanent neurologic sequelae from CAI (50% pre-CTA vs. 0% post-CTA; p = 0.07; Fisher exact test).


We conclude that CTA does not significantly increase the time of the diagnostic workup of the patient with injuries caused by blunt trauma. The introduction of CTA at our institution was associated with an increase in the detection rate of CAI. Earlier detection of CAI may allow for more timely therapeutic intervention and potentially prevent permanent neurologic sequelae.

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