Background:There are recognised variations in the anatomical course of the cervical portion of the internal carotid artery. An aberrant vessel with direct contact to the pharyngeal wall could easily be injured during pharyngeal surgery or may appear as a pharyngeal pseudo mass. Previous anatomical studies predominantly involved older patients. The prevalence of such variations which are at risk of injury during pharyngeal surgery has thus not been established in a general patient population.Material and Methods:The course of the internal carotid artery in relation to the oroand hypopharyngeal walls was retrospectively evaluated bilaterally by simple visual inspection and measurement of the smallest distance between the respective vessels and the adjacent mucosal surface of the pharyngeal wall in 138 consecutive contrast-enhanced computed tomography scans of the neck. Results:11/138 (7.9%) of patients demonstrated relevant cervical carotid artery aberrations, comprising medial kinking of a vessel with asymmetry of the adjacent pharyngeal lumen and/or an intimate submucous course in the pharyngeal wall with no identifiable separating fat plane. This prevalence increased with age. Simple visual inspection correlated well with the measurement of the smallest distance between an artery and the pharyngeal wall, which was statistically significant (p < 0.0001).Conclusions:The prevalence of about 8% in a general patient population is higher than previously recorded in anatomical studies. Prevalence increases with age. Otorhinolaryngologists should be aware of such variation as a risk factor for haemorrhagic complications during pharyngeal surgery and as a differential diagnosis of pharyngeal mass lesions, especially in older patients. Modern contrast-enhanced CT allows identification and characterisation of any surgically relevant variant vascular anatomy in the pre-operative work-up.
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