Blunt carotid arterial injuries: implications of a new grading scale

J Trauma. 1999 Nov;47(5):845-53. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199911000-00004.


Background: Blunt carotid arterial injuries (BCI) have the potential for devastating outcomes. A paucity of literature and the absence of a formal BCI grading scale have been major impediments to the formulation of sound practice guidelines. We reviewed our experience with 109 BCI and developed a grading scale with prognostic and therapeutic implications.

Methods: Patients admitted to a Level I trauma center were evaluated with cerebral arteriography if they exhibited signs or symptoms of BCI or met criteria for screening. Patients with BCI were treated with heparin unless they had contraindications, and follow-up arteriography was performed at 7 to 10 days. Endovascular stents were deployed selectively. A prospective database was used to track the patients.

Results: A total of 76 patients were diagnosed with 109 BCI. Two-thirds of mild intimal injuries (grade I) healed, regardless of therapy. Dissections or hematomas with luminal stenosis (grade II) progressed, despite heparin therapy in 70% of cases. Only 8% of pseudoaneurysms (grade III) healed with heparin, but 89% resolved after endovascular stent placement. Occlusions (grade IV) did not recanalize in the early postinjury period. Grade V injuries (transections) were lethal and refractory to intervention. Stroke risk increased with injury grade. Severe head injuries (Glasgow Coma Scale score < or =6) were found in 46% of patients and confounded evaluation of neurologic outcomes.

Conclusion: This BCI grading scale has prognostic and therapeutic implications. Nonoperative treatment options for grade I BCI should be evaluated in prospective, randomized trials. Accessible grade II, III, IV, and V lesions should be surgically repaired. Inaccessible grade II, III, and IV injuries should be treated with systemic anticoagulation. Endovascular techniques may be the only recourse in high grade V injuries and warrant controlled evaluation in the treatment of grade III BCI.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Angioplasty, Balloon
  • Carotid Artery Injuries / classification*
  • Carotid Artery Injuries / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Artery Injuries / therapy
  • Carotid Artery, Internal, Dissection / diagnostic imaging
  • Carotid Artery, Internal, Dissection / therapy
  • Cerebral Angiography
  • Child
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stents
  • Trauma Severity Indices*
  • Treatment Outcome