Screening for blunt cerebrovascular injury: selection criteria for use of angiography

Clinical article

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Blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCI) to the carotid and vertebral arteries is being recognized with increasing frequency in trauma victims. Yet, only broadly defined criteria exist for the use of screening angiography. In this study, the authors systematically identified the associated injuries that predict BCI and provide guidelines for the types of injuries best evaluated by angiography.


Criteria for screening angiography were developed with intentionally broad inclusion to maximize sensitivity. Screening criteria for each patient and angiographic results (5-point scale of BCI) were recorded prospectively. Injuries most often associated with a positive angiogram were identified. Dissection grades of 0–1 were classified as minor.


Of 365 patients evaluated for trauma by angiography between January 2000 and December 2005, 40 patients with penetrating trauma were excluded. Of the 325 patients included in the study, 100 (30.8%) had positive angiographic findings, including 79 (24.3%) with major injuries. Fractures of the cervical spine and midface (or mandibular ramus) were associated with major BCI (identified in 30.7% of patients with cervical fractures and 30.8% of patients with midface fractures). However, thoracic trauma and soft tissue injury of the neck were rarely associated with a significant BCI (0 and 3 cases, respectively). Horner syndrome and cervical bruit were associated with arterial dissection in 9 of 10 patients. Skull base fractures and unexplained neurological findings were associated with major BCI in 13 (18.3%) of 71 and 11 (16.9%) of 65 patients, respectively.


Cervical and facial fractures resulting from blunt trauma were highly associated with BCI. After significant thoracic trauma or soft tissue injury to the neck, angiography should be reserved for patients with unexplained neurological findings or expanding hematomas of the neck.

Abbreviations used in this paper: BCI = blunt cerebrovascular injury; CA = carotid artery; ICA = internal CA; VA = vertebral artery.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Andrew J. Ringer, M.D., c/o Editorial Office, Department of Neurosurgery, ML 0515, 231 Albert Sabin Way, Cincinnati, Ohio, 45267. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online July 31, 2009; DOI: 10.3171/2009.6.JNS08416.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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