Traumatic vertebral artery injuries (TVAIs) are a common finding in cervical spine trauma and can predispose patients to posterior circulation infarction. While extensive research has been conducted regarding the management and criteria for imaging in patients with suspected blunt vascular injury, little research has been conducted highlighting these injuries in the geriatric population.
The authors performed a retrospective review of all patients evaluated at a level 1 trauma center and found to have TVAIs between January 1, 2010, and January 1, 2018. Biometric, clinical, and imaging data were obtained from a trauma registry database. Patients were divided into 2 groups on the basis of age, a geriatric group (age ≥ 65 years) and an adult group (age 18 to < 65 years). Variables evaluated included type of trauma, mortality, Injury Severity Score (ISS), and ICU length of stay. The Student t-test was used for continuous variables, and Pearson’s chi-square test was used for categorical variables.
Of the 2698 of patients identified with traumatic cervical spine injuries, 103 patients demonstrated evidence of TVAI. Of these patients, 69 were < 65 and 34 were ≥ 65 years old at the time of their trauma. There was no difference in the incidence of TVAIs between the 2 groups. The ICU length of stay (4.71 vs 4.32 days, p > 0.05), hospital length of stay (10.71 vs 10.72 days, p > 0.05), and the ISS (21.50 vs 21.32, p > 0.05) did not differ significantly between the 2 groups. Mortality was significantly higher in the geriatric group, occurring in 9 of 34 patients (26.5%) compared with only 3 of 69 patients (4.4%) in the adult group (p < 0.001). Ground-level falls were the most common inciting event in the geriatric group (44% vs 14.5%, p < 0.001), whereas motor vehicle accidents were the most common etiology in the younger population (72.5% vs 38.2%, p < 0.001). Incidence of ischemic stroke did not vary significantly between the 2 groups (p > 0.05).
TVAI in the older adult population is associated with a significantly greater risk of mortality than in the younger adult population, despite the 2 groups having similar ISSs. Additionally, low-velocity mechanisms of injury, such as ground-level falls, are a greater risk factor for acquired TVAI in older adults than in younger adults, in whom it is a significantly less common etiology.