A systematic review of penetrating extracranial vertebral artery injuries

Juan A. Asensio, Parinaz J. Dabestani, Florian A. Wenzl, Stephanie S. Miljkovic, John J. Kessler, Carlos A. Fernandez, Tyson Becker, David Cornell, Margaret Siu, Charles Voigt, Devendra K. Agrawal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Background: Penetrating vertebral artery injuries (VAIs) are rare. Because of their rarity, complex anatomy, and difficult surgical exposures, few surgeons and trauma centers have developed significant experience with their management. The objectives of this study were to review their incidence, clinical presentation, radiologic identification, management, complications, and outcomes and to provide a review of anatomic exposures and surgical techniques for their management. Methods: A literature search on MEDLINE Complete-PubMed, Cochrane, Ovid, and Embase for the period of 1893 to 2018 was conducted. Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were used. Our literature search yielded a total of 181 potentially eligible articles with 71 confirmed articles, consisting of 21 penetrating neck injury series, 13 VAI-specific series, and 37 case reports. Operative procedures and outcomes were recorded along with methods of angiographic imaging and operative management. All articles were reviewed by at least two independent authors, and data were analyzed collectively. Results: There were a total of 462 patients with penetrating VAIs. The incidence of VAI in the civilian population was 3.1% vs 0.3% in the military population. More complete data were available from 13 collected VAI-specific series and 37 case reports for a total of 362 patients. Mechanism of injury data were available for 341 patients (94.2%). There were gunshot wounds (178 patients [49.2%]), stab wounds (131 [73.6%]), and miscellaneous mechanisms of injury (32 [8.8%]). Anatomic site of injury data were available for 177 (49%) patients: 92 (25.4%) left, 84 (23.2%) right, and 1 (0.3%) bilateral. Anatomic segment of injury data were available for 204 patients (56.4%): 28 (7.7%) V1, 125 (34.5%) V2, and 51 (14.1%) V3. Treatment data were available for 212 patients. Computed tomography angiography was the most common imaging modality (163 patients [77%]). Injuries were addressed by operative management (94 [44.3%]), angiography and angioembolization (72 [34%]), combined approaches (11 [5.2%]), and observation (58 [27.4%]). Stenting and repair were less frequently employed (10 [4.7%]). The incidence of aneurysms or pseudoaneurysms was 18.5% (67); the incidence of arteriovenous fistula was 16.9% (61). The calculated mortality in VAI-specific series was 15.1%; in the individual case report group, it was 10.5%. Conclusions: The majority of VAIs present without neurologic symptoms, although some may present with exsanguinating hemorrhage. Computed tomography angiography should be considered first line to establish diagnosis. Gunshot wounds account for most injuries. The most frequently injured segment is V2. Surgical ligation is the most common intervention, followed by angioembolization, both of which constitute important management approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2161-2169
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Angioembolization
  • Outcomes
  • Penetrating operative management
  • Radiographic identification
  • Vertebral artery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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