Blunt traumatic occlusion of the internal carotid and vertebral arteries

Ryan P Morton, Brian W Hanak, Michael R Levitt, Kathleen R Fink, Eric C Peterson, Marcelo D Vilela, Louis J Kim, Randall M Chesnut
Journal of Neurosurgery 2014, 120 (6): 1446-50

OBJECT: The stroke rate, management, and outcome after blunt cerebrovascular occlusion (Biffl Grade IV injury) is not well defined, given the rarity of the disease. Both hemodynamic failure and embolic mechanisms have been implicated in the pathophysiology of subsequent stroke after blunt cerebrovascular occlusion. In this study, the authors evaluated their center's experience with Biffl Grade IV injuries, focusing on elucidating the mechanisms of stroke and their optimal management.

METHODS: A retrospective review identified all internal carotid artery (ICA) or vertebral artery (VA) Biffl Grade IV injuries over a 7-year period at a single institution.

RESULTS: Fifty-nine Biffl Grade IV injuries were diagnosed affecting 11 ICAs, 44 unilateral VAs, and 2 bilateral VAs. The stroke rates were 64%, 9%, and 50%, respectively. Of the 11 Biffl Grade IV ICA injuries, 5 presented with stroke while 2 developed delayed stroke. An ipsilateral posterior communicating artery greater than 1 mm on CT angiography was protective against stroke due to hemodynamic failure (p = 0.015). All patients with Biffl Grade IV injuries affecting the ICA who had at least 8 emboli per hour on transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasonography developed an embolic pattern of stroke (p = 0.006). Treatment with aspirin versus dual antiplatelet therapy had a similar effect on stroke rate in the ICA group (p = 0.5) and all patients who suffered stroke either died (n = 3) or required a decompressive hemicraniectomy with subsequent poor outcome (n = 4). All 10 strokes associated with Biffl Grade IV VA injuries were embolic and clinically asymptomatic. In VA Biffl Grade IV injury, neither the presence of emboli nor treatment with antiplatelet agents affected stroke rates.

CONCLUSIONS: At the authors' institution, traumatic ICA occlusion is rare but associated with a high stroke rate. Robust collateral circulation may mitigate its severity. Embolic monitoring with TCD ultrasonography and prophylactic antiplatelet therapy should be used in all ICA Biffl Grade IV injuries. Unilateral VA Biffl Grade IV injury is the most common type of traumatic occlusion and is associated with significantly less morbidity. Embolic monitoring using TCD and prophylactic antiplatelet therapy do not appear to be beneficial in patients with traumatic VA occlusion.

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