The purpose of this prospective multicenter study was to evaluate a clinical protocol integrating multidetector computed tomographic angiography (MDCTA) as the initial screening examination for the work-up of penetrating neck injury.

All penetrating neck injuries assessed at two Level I trauma centers (January 2009-July 2011) prospectively underwent a structured clinical examination. Those with hard signs of injury (active bleed, instability, expanding/pulsatile hematoma, bruit/thrill, hemoptysis, hematemesis, and air bubbling) underwent exploration, those who were asymptomatic were observed. The remainder, with soft signs underwent MDCTA. Sensitivity and specificity were tested against an aggregate gold standard of operative intervention, clinical follow-up, and when obtained, conventional angiography, bronchoscopy, esophagogram, and esophagoscopy.

Four hundred fifty-three penetrating neck injuries were evaluated. Hard signs of vascular or aerodigestive tract injury were observed in 8.6% with an 89.7% incidence of clinically significant injury. 41.7% had no signs of injury and were observed with no missed injuries (follow-up, 2.6 days ± 1.1 days [1-58 days]). The remaining 225 (49.7%) underwent MDCTA (stab wound, 61.3%; gunshot wound, 37.8%; shotgun, 0.9%). The external wounds were in zone II (38.2%), multiple (28.9%), zone I (16.9%), and zone III (16.0%). Twenty-eight injuries were found in 22 patients (5 internal jugular-V, 2 external jugular-V, 1 vertebral-A, 7 common carotid-A, 2 internal carotid-A, 3 external carotid-A, 2 subclavian-A, 3 esophagus, and 3 tracheas). Five patients had false-positive findings (2 vascular and 3 aerodigestive tract). The 194 negative studies (follow-up, 5.5 days ± 7.5 days [1-27 days]) had no delayed diagnosis of injury. MDCTA was nondiagnostic in four patients (1.8%), secondary to artifact. One of these had a vertebral-A injury diagnosed at angiography. MDCTA achieved 100% sensitivity and 97.5% specificity in detecting all clinically significant injuries.

In the initial evaluation of patients who have sustained penetrating neck trauma, physical examination can safely reduce unnecessary imaging. If imaging is required, MDCTA is a highly sensitive and specific screening modality for evaluating the vascular and aerodigestive structures in the neck.

II, prospective study.