Neck Trauma Can Cause a Stroke

There are a number of accidents that can cause severe neck trauma resulting in stroke, permanent brain damage or death. Young people, in particular, are at risk of self inflicted neck injuries that may result from a suicide attempt, accidental asphyxiation, recreational choking activities or excessive neck pressure causing injury of the carotid arteries or vertebral arteries. While theses incidents are not common, tragic consequences of neck injury due are periodically reported.

The Carotid Arteries in the Neck

Blood supply to the brain is carried through two large blood vessels called carotid arteries. The carotid arteries run on the side of the neck, one on the left side and one on the right side. When blood flow to the brain is interrupted, the brain lacks vital oxygen and nutrients, which causes brain cells to lose function.

Disease of the inside of the carotid arteries can build over time, potentially resulting in blockage of blood flow to the brain. Additionally, injury to the carotid arteries caused by trauma on the outside of the neck can happen as well, When the carotid arteries are traumatized externally, the results can be sudden, life altering or fatal.

The Vertebral Arteries

The vertebral arteries are located in the back of the neck and they provide blood to posterior (back) regions of the brain. The vertebral arteries primarily supply blood to the brain stem, the cerebellum and the occipital lobe.

Injuries of the Carotid Arteries and the Vertebral Arteries

Several activities may induce self inflicted, yet accidental, injuries to the arteries in the neck, causing unintentional consequences.

Suicide Attempts

Most people have never heard of the complications of attempted suicide. Stroke is one of the most serious, life-altering consequences of attempted suicide.

A hanging attempt causes injury to the carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries. The neck pressure that results from attempted strangulation can cause a stroke due to physical compression of the carotid arteries or the vertebral arteries. 

This type of external injury to the carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries produces a combination of symptoms, such as permanent weakness, difficulty speaking, vision loss, coordination problems, memory impairment, behavioral changes and inability to walk.

Sudden injury to the blood vessels requires urgent intervention and extensive surgical procedures for repair. Even after surgical repair of the blood vessels of the neck, some survivors suffer from permanent brain damage or brain death.

Recreational Asphyxiation, Auto Erotic Asphyxiation

Young people, as well as adults, have taken part in solitary or group activities involving 'hanging' that is intended to be temporary. These activities may result in death or permanent brain damage. In general, such activities are intended to induce a type of pleasure or enjoyment for the participants.

In most instances it is difficult to determine whether deaths were accidental or intentional.

Extreme oxygen deprivation can occur very quickly due to pressure on the neck, causing rapid brain damage. This makes it impossible for participants to reverse the neck pressure due to physical weakness, confusion or delirium, ultimately resulting in accidental death or permanent brain injury.

Recreational Chocking

Recreational choking games or rituals can result in trauma to the carotid arteries and vertebral arteries or may result in oxygen deprivation to the brain. This may cause immediate death or a surgical emergency in order to repair the injured blood vessels. Even if the blood vessels are repaired, residual brain damage is likely.

There are occasional reports of children, teens and young adults who have been injured or who have died while taking part in ill defined choking 'challenges' or games while either alone or in a group.

Neck Bites

While it is uncommon, neck bites can cause injury, bleeding and infection of the carotid arteries. This can result in a rapidly progressive infection that may cause strokes or the spread of infection to the brain.

A bleeding injury caused by a neck bite requires urgent medical attention. Evaluation of the carotid and vertebral arteries to search for tears, and testing for infection are necessary to prevent serious consequences.

A Word From Verywell

Neck injuries are uncommon, but may be life threatening. It is important to be aware of the dangers of placing physical pressure on the neck and to avoid deliberate neck pressure for any reason.

Sources

Atypical suicides or the first undiagnosed autoerotic deaths in Europe? Lunetta P, J Forensic Leg Med. 2013 Nov;20(8):1010-3.

Sharp neck injuries in suicidal intention, Biétry D, Exadaktylos A, Müller T, Zbären P, Caversaccio M, Arnold A, Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2015 Dec;272(12):3825-31

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