The purpose of this study was to prospectively evaluate the utility of dynamic computed tomographic (CT) scanning as a diagnostic tool and adjunct to physical examination in the identification of surgically significant penetrating zone II neck injuries.
All patients older than 14 years of age who suffered penetrating zone II neck injuries were eligible for entry into the study protocol at an urban Level I trauma center. All patients that presented with signs of surgically significant injury on physical examination underwent immediate neck exploration. Patients that did not show signs of surgically significant injury were entered into the study protocol and underwent soft tissue dynamic CT scan (1/2-cm cuts, 250-mL oral contrast) of the neck after initial resuscitation. After CT scan, all patients entered into the study protocol underwent esophagography. After completion of radiologic assessment, all study protocol patients underwent surgical exploration of the neck. The patient’s surgical team was blinded to results of the CT scan and esophagography before and during surgical exploration of the neck.
During a 42-month period from May 1997 to March 2001, 42 patients were entered into the study protocol. Thirty-six (86%) of the injuries were secondary to stab wounds and the rest were caused by gunshot wounds. Surgical exploration revealed four esophageal injuries, of which two (50%) were missed by CT scan. Esophagography missed the identical esophageal injuries, as did CT scan. Both of the missed esophageal injuries were secondary to stab wounds. Seven internal jugular vein injuries were diagnosed intraoperatively, of which four (57%) were diagnosed by CT scan. During the study period, all patients with carotid artery and tracheal injuries were diagnosed by physical examination and thus underwent immediate surgical exploration without study entry.
Dynamic CT scan contributes minimally to the sensitivity of physical examination in the diagnosis of surgically significant penetrating zone II neck injury. Diagnosis of esophageal injuries with dynamic CT scan appears no better than esophagography. CT scan has greater sensitivity than physical examination for the diagnosis of jugular venous injuries; however, the majority of these injuries do not require identification or surgical intervention.