Diagnosis and management of evacuated casualties with cervical vascular injuries resulting from combat-related explosive blasts

Colin A. Meghoo, James W. Dennis, Caroline Tuman, Raymond Fang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Explosive blasts are common in the modern military environment. These blasts incorporate a concussive component (primary blast injury) and a penetrating component (secondary blast injury). Penetrating injuries are the leading cause of death and injury in these attacks. This review characterizes the vascular injuries associated with penetrating blast injuries to the neck and provides recommendations on the early management of these casualties for the surgeon unfamiliar with these injuries. Methods: The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Trauma Registry was queried for admissions from January 1, 2006, to June 30, 2010, coded for a penetrating injury to the neck caused by a blast mechanism. Medical records were abstracted from the patient's initial presentation and care through the deployed military medical system. We recorded the vascular injuries, diagnostic studies, operative events, and early postinjury course for all identified patients. Results: Query of the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center Trauma Registry initially identified 252 patients, of which 53 were excluded because their injuries arose from other mechanisms or were only superficial. Among the remaining 199 patients, 38 (19.1%) sustained 44 vascular injuries requiring treatment. Compelling physical examination findings ("hard signs") were present in 15 (7.5%), who underwent immediate neck exploration. Another 12 patients also underwent neck exploration without any prior imaging studies. Computed tomography (CT) or CT angiography (CTA) examinations were done in 172 patients without hard-sign physical examination findings. Of these, the result of the imaging study was negative in 106 patients, and no further investigation or treatment for cervical vascular trauma was initiated. Of 66 patients who underwent CT/CTA before operative neck exploration, CT/CTA identified a vascular injury in 26 that was later confirmed on neck exploration. The combination of physical examination and CT/CTA resulted in a sensitivity of 96.3% and a specificity of 97.2% in diagnosing cervical vascular injury. Conclusions: Penetrating cervical wounds from war-related blast trauma are associated with potentially life-threatening vascular injuries. The presenting physical examination, availability of CT/CTA, local surgical expertise, and tactical combat situation all contribute to surgical decision making in these patients. In patients without hard signs of vascular trauma and a normal CT/CTA of the neck, there is no evidence to support mandatory surgical neck explorations or further immediate diagnostic studies to exclude cervical vascular injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1329-1337
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of vascular surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Diagnosis and management of evacuated casualties with cervical vascular injuries resulting from combat-related explosive blasts'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this