Blunt cerebrovascular injury: The case for universal screening

J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2020 Nov;89(5):880-886. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002824.


Background: Current evidence-based screening algorithms for blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCVI) may miss more than 30% of carotid or vertebral artery injuries. We implemented universal screening for BCVI with computed tomography angiography of the neck at our level 1 trauma center, hypothesizing that only universal screening would identify all clinically relevant BCVIs.

Methods: Adult blunt trauma activations from July 2017 to August 2019 underwent full-body computed tomography scan including computed tomography angiography neck with a 128-slice computed tomography scanner. We calculated sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value, and accuracy of common screening criteria. We determined independent risk factors for BCVI using multivariate analyses.

Results: A total of 4,659 patients fulfilled the inclusion criteria, 2.7% (n = 126) of which had 158 BCVIs. For the criteria outlined in the American College of Surgeons Trauma Quality Improvement Program Best Practices Guidelines, sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value, and accuracy were 72.2%, 64.9%, 6.8%, 98.5%, and 65.2%, respectively; for the risk factors suggested in the more extensive expanded Denver criteria, they were 82.5%, 50.4%, 5.3%, 98.9%, and 51.4%, respectively. Twenty-three percent (n = 14) of patients with BCVI grade 3 or higher would not have been captured by any screening criteria. Cervical spine, facial, and skull base fractures were the strongest predictors of BCVI with odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals of 8.1 (5.4-12.1), 5.7 (2.2-15.1), and 2.7 (1.5-4.7), respectively. Eighty-three percent (n = 105) of patients with BCVI received antiplatelet agents or therapeutic anticoagulation, with 4% (n = 5) experiencing a bleeding complication, 3% (n = 4) a BCVI progression, and 8% (n = 10) a stroke.

Conclusion: Almost 20% of patients with BCVI, including a quarter of those with BCVI grade 3 or higher, would have gone undiagnosed by even the most extensive and sensitive BCVI screening criteria. Implementation of universal screening should strongly be considered to ensure the detection of all clinically relevant BCVIs.

Level of evidence: Diagnostic study, level III.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Cerebrovascular Trauma / etiology
  • Computed Tomography Angiography / standards*
  • Critical Pathways / standards
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards
  • Female
  • Head Injuries, Closed / complications*
  • Head Injuries, Closed / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mass Screening / standards
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck / blood supply
  • Neck / diagnostic imaging
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retrospective Studies