Denver criteria for blunt cerebrovascular injury

Last revised by Dr Francis Deng on 20 Sep 2020

The Denver criteria are a set of screening criteria used to determine when CT angiography of the neck is indicated to detect blunt cerebrovascular injury (BCVI) in trauma patients. 

The Denver criteria were initially developed in 1996 1, modified in 2005 to limit the types of cervical spine injuries that qualify 2, and expanded in 2012 to include additional craniofacial, brain, and thoracic injuries 3. Subsequently, the Denver criteria have been further expanded to include again all cervical spine fractures 4,5.

The current screening protocol criteria are divided into signs/symptoms of blunt cerebrovascular injury and risk factors:

  • potential arterial hemorrhage from the neck, nose, or mouth
  • cervical bruit in patients <50 years of age
  • expanding cervical hematoma
  • focal neurologic deficit (transient ischemic attack, hemiparesis, vertebrobasilar symptoms, Horner syndrome)
  • neurologic deficit incongruous with head CT findings
  • stroke on CT or MRI

High-energy transfer mechanism plus any of the following 4:

If a trauma patient meets any of these criteria, the possibility of blunt cerebrovascular injury should be evaluated with multidetector-row, 64-channel CTA 4.

Patients diagnosed with blunt cerebrovascular injury should receive antithrombotic therapy (aspirin or heparin) to decrease the risk of stroke and stroke-related mortality 5.

The Denver criteria were developed by trauma surgeon Walter Biffl and surgical colleagues at Denver Health Medical Center in Colorado. Dr Biffl subsequently moved institutions, but the criteria have continued to be refined by colleagues in the Denver group and are featured in practice guidelines by various professional societies 5.

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