Diagnosis and management of blunt carotid artery injury in oral and maxillofacial surgery

A P Punjabi, B R Plaisier, R H Haug, M A Malangoni
Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery 1997, 55 (12): 1388-95; discussion 1396

PURPOSE: Traumatic occlusion of the internal carotid artery (ICA) is a rare complication of maxillofacial trauma or surgery. This investigation evaluated patient demographics, diagnostic methods, and effective therapeutic modalities associated with blunt carotid injury (BCI).

PATIENTS AND METHODS: This was a retrospective analysis of patient records with an ICD-9-CM diagnosis of carotid injury conducted at MetroHealth Medical Center during the 24-month period between August 1993 and July 1995. Carotid injuries attributable to penetrating trauma were excluded. Age, gender, cause of injury, Glasgow Coma Scale score, Injury Severity Score, type and location of injury, concomitant injury, diagnostic methods, treatment modalities, and outcome were identified, recorded, and analyzed.

RESULTS: During the 24-month period, 12 patients (seven males and five females) suffered BCI. These patients were divided into two groups based on cause of the problem. In group I, there were 3,214 blunt trauma patients admitted during the 2-year study, of which 10 patients had BCI, representing 0.31% of blunt trauma patients, and 1.2% of patients with head injuries. Seven patients presented with hemiplegia, two with cranial nerve palsy, and one with perceptual neglect. Ninety percent of the patients had associated injuries. Two patients had surgical intervention, three received anticoagulation, and five had only supportive care. Four of the 10 patients died, four had moderate neurologic deficits, and two survived with only minor neurologic deficits. In group II, two patients developed BCI after surgery. A 52-year-old woman had a carotid injury after right total temporomandibular joint replacement, and a 48-year-old man who underwent surgical removal of a third molar became hemiplegic postoperatively. The first patient recovered after anticoagulation, whereas the second patient, who received only supportive care, has severe neurologic deficits.

CONCLUSIONS: BCI is an uncommon entity. It is usually recognized when a patient develops an unexplained neurologic deficit, most often hemiplegia, subsequent to trauma or surgery of the head, face, or neck. In the early stages, the diagnosis can be missed by carotid ultrasound or computed tomography. The injury is unrelated to Glasgow Coma Scale score. Symptoms may not develop for days after injury in 50% of patients. Anticoagulation appears to be the most beneficial therapeutic modality.

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