JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Does CT Angiography Matter for Patients with Cervical Spine Injuries?

BACKGROUND: Cervical injury can be associated with vertebral artery injury. This study was performed to determine the impact of computed tomography (CT) angiography of the head and neck on planning treatment of cervical spine fracture, if these tests were ordered appropriately, and to estimate cost and associated exposure to radiation and contrast medium.

METHODS: This retrospective review included all patients who underwent CT of the cervical spine and CT angiography of the head and neck from January 2010 to August 2011 at one institution. Patients were divided into those with and those without cervical spine fracture seen on CT of the cervical spine. We determined if the CT angiography of the head and neck was positive for vascular injury in the patients with a cervical fracture. Vascular injury treatment and alterations in surgical fracture treatment due to positive CT angiography of the head and neck were recorded. A scan was deemed appropriate if it had been ordered per established institutional protocol.

RESULTS: Of the 381 patients who underwent CT angiography of the head and neck, 126 had a cervical injury. Sixteen of the CT angiography studies were appropriately ordered for non-spinal indications, and twenty-three were inappropriately ordered. The CT angiography was positive for one patient for whom the imaging was off protocol and one for whom the indication was non-spinal. Nineteen patients had positive CT angiography of the head and neck; no patient underwent surgical intervention for a vascular lesion. Eleven patients underwent surgical intervention for a cervical fracture; the operative plan was changed because of vascular injury in one case. The CT angiography was positive for eleven of forty-eight patients who had sustained a C2 fracture; this group accounted for eleven of the nineteen positive CT angiography studies. Noncontiguous injuries occurred in nineteen patients; three had positive CT angiography of the head and neck. The approximate charge for the CT angiography was $3925, radiation exposure was approximately 4000 mGy/cm, and contrast-medium load was approximately 100 mL.

CONCLUSIONS: Positive CT angiography of the head and neck rarely altered surgical treatment of cervical spine injuries. This study supports the findings in the literature that C1-C3 spine injuries have an increased association with vertebral artery injury. CT angiography of the head and neck ordered off protocol had a low likelihood of being positive. Strict adherence to protocols for CT angiography of the head and neck can reduce costs and decrease unnecessary exposure to radiation and contrast medium.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Prognostic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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