The retromandibular loop of the external carotid artery

Ann Anat. 2024 Feb 7:253:152226. doi: 10.1016/j.aanat.2024.152226. Online ahead of print.


Background: The external carotid artery (ECA) is a major artery of the head and neck. Although numerous studies describe the variability of ECA branches, the course variation of the ECA was seemingly overlooked. It was aimed to study the morphological possibilities of the retromandibular segment of the ECA.

Method: A retrospective study was performed on 60 computed tomography angiograms of 26 male and 31 female adult patients. Three types of retromandibular ECA were defined: type 1 - the ECA has a straight course deep to the anatomical plane of the ramus of the mandible; type 2 - the ECA makes a retromandibular loop directed laterally, extending externally to the anatomical plane of the ramus of the mandible; and type 3 - the retromandibular loop directed laterally reaches just behind the posterior margin of the ramus of the mandible.

Results: Type 1 was found in just 43.33%, type 2 in 18.33%, and type 3 in 38.33% of 120 sides cases. On the right, type 1 was significantly associated with the male gender, and type 3 with the female gender (Pearson Chi2=10.9, p=0.004). On the left, there were no statistically significant associations (Pearson Chi2=3.5, p=0.153). In 20 cases, the retromandibular course of the ECA was asymmetrical; in 21 cases, type 1 was recorded bilaterally; in 5 cases, type 2 was bilaterally symmetrical; and in 14 cases, type 3 was found bilaterally.

Conclusion: These previously undocumented types of ECA are relevant during parotid surgery and should be investigated preoperatively on a case-by-case basis.

Keywords: Carotid artery; Computed tomography; Parotid gland; Surgical dissection.