Imaging and Management of Blunt Cerebrovascular Injury

Radiographics. Mar-Apr 2018;38(2):542-563. doi: 10.1148/rg.2018170140.


Blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCVI) is a relatively rare but potentially devastating finding in patients with high-energy blunt force trauma or direct cervical and/or craniofacial injury. The radiologist plays an essential role in identifying and grading the various types of vascular injury, including minimal intimal injury, dissection with raised intimal flap or intraluminal thrombus, intramural hematoma, pseudoaneurysm, occlusion, transection, and arteriovenous fistula. Early identification of BCVI is important, as treatment with antithrombotic therapy has been shown to reduce the incidence of postinjury ischemic stroke. Patients with specific mechanisms of injury, particular imaging findings, or certain clinical signs and symptoms have been identified as appropriate and cost-effective for BCVI screening. Although digital subtraction angiography was previously considered the standard examination for screening, technologic improvements have led to its replacement with computed tomographic angiography. Of note, although not appropriate for screening, improvements in magnetic resonance angiography with vessel wall imaging hold promise as supplemental imaging studies that may improve diagnostic specificity for vessel wall injuries. Understanding the screening criteria, imaging modalities of choice, imaging appearances, and grading of BCVI is essential for the radiologist to ensure fast and appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This article details the imaging evaluation of BCVI and discusses the clinical and follow-up imaging implications of specific injury findings. ©RSNA, 2018.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / therapy*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / therapy*