Emergency Imaging in the Head and Neck

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Since the head and neck region is a crossroad of densely packed anatomical structures, every condition causing harm to this region may be potentially life-threatening. These conditions may be due to injury, inflammation and infection. Computed tomography (CT) is considered the first-choice imaging technique in the emergent setting, as a result of its speed, large field of view, high spatial resolution and superiority in bone imaging. Of course, we must be aware of the radiation exposure, but we should also find a balance between the (semi-)recently introduced dose limitation protocols and the potential loss of diagnostic information. Whether iodinated contrast is to be used depends on the type of aggressor: as a rule, in the setting of traumatic injury to the face a non-contrast CT is sufficient to diagnose the extent of the fractures, whereas iodine contrast helps the radiologist when dealing with inflammatory and infectious conditions. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging provides superior soft tissue delineation but is less attractive as a first-choice imaging technique in the emergent setting, mainly due to the higher acquisition time and consequently higher motion artifacts. Furthermore, (unknown) metallic foreign bodies may cause susceptibility artifacts when they are positioned in the field of view or even cause harm to the patient when entering the high magnetic field. The choice of the correct imaging technique depends on the clinical question. Subdividing the head and neck region into anatomical interconnected areas makes it helpful in understanding the pathology harming each or multiple areas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number18
Pages (from-to)1-3
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of the Belgian Society of Radiology
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2018


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