Follow-up imaging of traumatic vertebral artery dissections is unnecessary in asymptomatic patients

M. Caroline Nally, Catherine Kling, Kyle M. Hocking, Heather Lillemoe, Julia M. Boll, John A. Curci, C. Louis Garrard, Thomas C. Naslund, R. James Valentine

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1 Scopus citations


Objective: Routine computed tomography (CT) imaging in trauma patients has led to increased recognition of blunt vertebral artery injuries (BVIs). We sought to determine the prevalence of strokes, injury progression, and need for intervention in patients with BVI. Methods: Consecutive patients presenting with BVI during 2 years were identified from the institutional trauma registry. Inpatient records, imaging studies, and follow-up data were reviewed in detail from the electronic medical record. Results: There were 76 BVIs identified in 70 patients (64% male; mean age, 47 ± 19 years); bilateral injuries occurred in 6 patients. Five patients who arrived at the hospital intubated had evidence of posterior circulation infarcts on admission CT, whereas one additional patient had evidence of a posterior circulation infarct attributed to complications of late spinal surgery. Four of the five patients with infarcts on admission CT survived to discharge, but only one had residual stroke symptoms. Minor (grade 1 or grade 2) injuries occurred in 25 (36%) patients; severe (grade 3 or grade 4) injuries occurred in 45 (64%). Twelve patients died of associated injuries (eight with severe BVI, four with minor BVI). Stepwise logistic regression analysis selected age (odds ratio, 1.14; confidence interval, 1.04-1.25; P < .001) and intubation on arrival (odds ratio, 450.4; confidence interval, 17.41-1645.51; P < .001) as independent predictors of hospital stroke and death. Of the 58 surviving to discharge, 31 (53%) returned for follow-up CT scans. Six of 10 (60%) patients with minor injuries had resolution or improvement compared with 3 of 21 (14%) with severe injuries (P = .027). One patient (10%) with a minor BVI and two patients (10%) with severe BVI had radiologic progression, but none were clinically significant. During a mean follow-up of 15 ± 13 months, none of the study patients had treatment (surgical or interventional) for BVI, and there were no delayed strokes. Only five patients in this series had vertebral pseudoaneurysms, which limits conclusions about this type of BVI. Conclusions: These data suggest that BVI-related strokes are present at the time of admission and do not have clinical sequelae. No late strokes occurred in this series, and no surgical or interventional treatments were required even in the presence of radiographic worsening. The relatively few cases of vertebral pseudoaneurysms in this series limit any conclusions about these specific lesions. However, these data indicate that follow-up imaging of nonaneurysmal BVI is not necessary in adults who are found to be asymptomatic on follow-up.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1704-1709
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Society for Vascular Surgery


  • Blunt vertebral artery injury
  • Cerebral infarction
  • Cerebrovascular trauma

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