Approximately 10% of patients with blunt traumatic extracranial cerebrovascular injury have a complete occlusion of the vertebral artery (VA). Ischemic stroke due to embolization of thrombus from an occluded VA following cervical spine surgery has been observed. The risk of ischemic stroke with cervical spine surgery in the presence of an occluded VA, however, has never been determined.
A retrospective chart review of 52 patients with a VA occlusion following a blunt trauma was performed. Clinical and radiographic characteristics were collected and analyzed.
Ten patients (19.2%) suffered an ischemic stroke attributable to a traumatic VA occlusion. Univariate analysis demonstrated that patients with ischemic stroke were significantly older (p = 0.042) and had a lower rate of cervical spine surgery (p < 0.005). Multivariate analysis found cervical spine surgery to be protective against ischemic stroke (OR 0.049 [95% CI 0.014–0.167], p = 0.014); increasing age and bilateral VA injury (bilateral occlusion or unilateral occlusion with contralateral dissection) were risk factors for ischemic stroke (OR 1.05 [95% CI1.02–1.07], p = 0.065 and OR 13.2 [95% CI 2.98–58.9], p = 0.084, respectively).
Traumatic VA occlusion is associated with a risk of ischemic stroke and mortality. Corrective cervical spine surgery potentially decreases the risk of ischemic stroke by stabilizing the spine and thereby reducing motion across the occluded segment of the VA and preventing embolization of thrombus. While a high stoke risk may be inherent to the disease, novel therapies should be investigated.