Background: Blunt cerebrovascular injuries are rare injuries causing substantial morbidity and mortality. The appropriate screening methods and treatment options for these injuries are controversial. We examined our experience with these injuries at a community Level I Trauma center over a 51 month period.
Study design: A retrospective review and analysis was done of all patients with the diagnosis of a blunt cerebrovascular injury during this period.
Results: Fourteen patients had blunt carotid injury (0.40%) and three had blunt vertebral injury (0.09%) out of 3,480 total blunt admissions. The overall incidence of blunt cerebrovascular injury was 0.49%. The most common associated injuries were to the head (59%) and chest (47%) regions. The overall mortality rate was 59% (10 of 17), with death occurring in 8 of 14 (57%) blunt carotid injury patients and 2 of 3 (67%) blunt vertebral injury patients. Eight of ten (80%) deaths were directly attributable to the blunt cerebrovascular injury. Median time until diagnosis was 12.5 h (range 1-336 h) for the entire group and 19.5 h for nonsurvivors. Diagnosis was delayed > 24h in 7 patients and > 48h in 5 patients. All five patients whose diagnoses were delayed > 48 h developed complications, and four (80%) of these patients died.
Conclusions: Blunt cerebrovascular injury is uncommon, but lethal; particularly when the diagnosis is delayed. Aggressive screening protocols based on mechanism of injury, associated injuries, and physical findings are justified to minimize morbidity and mortality. Head and chest injuries may serve as markers for blunt cerebrovascular injury. Most deaths are directly attributable to the blunt cerebrovascular injury and not to associated injuries.