We report a case of spontaneous vertebral artery dissection (VAD) in a patient who developed extensive subcutaneous emphysema following the removal of a chest tube after a cardiac transplant. The pathophysiology and management of this uncommon complication are reviewed. Although vertebral and carotid artery dissections are unusual events occurring in 2.5 to 3 per 100,000 people, they are increasingly acknowledged to be important causes of stroke in the young and middle-aged adult population accounting for up to 25% of such cases. VADs are associated with a variety of minor traumatic mechanisms including painting a ceiling, yoga, chiropractic manipulation of the spine, and driving. These events cause injury to the vessel wall either by shearing forces secondary to rotational injuries or direct trauma to the vessel wall on bony prominences, especially the transverse processes of the cervical vertebrae. We present a case of a patient with documented previously normal vertebral arterial anatomy who developed a VAD after mediastinal tube removal resulted in subcutaneous emphysema tracking through fascial planes into his neck.
© 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.