Management of penetrating injuries to carotid artery

World J Surg. 2001 Aug;25(8):1028-35. doi: 10.1007/s00268-001-0055-y.


The diagnosis and management of penetrating injuries to the cervical carotid arteries continue to be controversial. Most patients with stab or gunshot wounds to the common or internal carotid artery in cervical zone II (sternal notch to angle of mandible) are symptomatic with external or intraoral hemorrhage, a rapidly expanding hematoma, evidence of a carotid-jugular arteriovenous fistula at an obvious site, or loss of the carotid pulse with a neurologic deficit. Immediate airway control and arterial repair are indicated in such patients. Other patients present with stab or gunshot wounds with proximity only to the carotid sheath, a stable hematoma, unknown level of a carotid-jugular arteriovenous fistula, or loss of the carotid pulse without a neurologic deficit. Diagnostic options in this latter group include duplex ultrasound, color duplex imaging, and standard arteriography, while the role of CT or MRI angiography in evaluating patients with penetrating cervical wounds is unclear at this time. Certain arterial injuries discovered on diagnostic tests are currently managed with observation, endovascular stenting (for intimal or wall irregularities), and arteriographic embolization (for small pseudoaneurysms or high carotid-jugular fistulas). Operative repairs for injuries in zone II are performed through an oblique cervical incision and include all the options used with peripheral vascular injuries. Patients with penetrating cervical wounds, preoperative neurologic deficits, and immediate transport to the trauma center should have repair rather than ligation of the injured carotid artery. When the patient is truly comatose with a Glasgow Coma Scale score < 8, an unsatisfactory neurologic outcome is likely with either arterial repair or ligation. Injuries to the extracranial internal carotid artery in cervical zone III (above the angle of the mandible) may require innovative approaches to control hemorrhage and then maintain flow to the ipsilateral cerebral cortex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carotid Artery Injuries / complications
  • Carotid Artery Injuries / surgery*
  • Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Hemorrhage / surgery
  • Humans
  • Wounds, Penetrating / surgery*