Background: Military vascular injuries frequently result from fragment wounds while civilian vascular injuries usually are caused by gunshot wounds. The natural history of untreated major injuries by small low velocity fragments is not well known. This study evaluated the nature of these wounds.
Methods: From 1990 to 1995, 40 patients with a delayed diagnosis of an arterial injury in the extremity, abdomen, or neck were treated. The median delay between injury and diagnosis was 60 days. All patients had been seen at other military hospitals immediately after trauma.
Results: During initial hospitalization, immediate exploration had been performed in 23 patients and arteriogram in 3 patients. According to analysis of the records of patients, none of them had hard signs of vascular injury at the time of initial evaluation after trauma. Complications of missed arterial injuries included the following: false aneurysm, 21 (52.5%); arteriovenous fistula, 14 (35%); and occlusion, 5 (12.5%). The superficial femoral artery (n = 11) was the most commonly injured vessel. The remaining arteries included the following: carotid, 2; vertebral, 1; subclavian, 5; axillary, 2; brachial, 3; radial or ulnar, 2; internal iliac, 2; common femoral, 1; profunda femoris, 2; popliteal, 1; tibioperoneal, 8. Thirty-eight patients had penetrating wounds (21 fragments, 9 gunshot, 3 shotgun, 5 stab wounds), and only 2 patients had blunt trauma. All patients underwent surgery. There were no deaths and no loss of extremity, but 10 patients had fair results and only 4 patients required later reoperation.
Conclusion: Traumatic arterial injuries that particularly are caused by low-velocity small fragment wounds can result in serious delayed complications months or even years after the injury. Patients with penetrating injuries must be closely monitored, and arteriography is recommended to evaluate the conditions of patients with potential vascular injury even when overt clinical signs or symptoms of vascular injury are absent.