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Pulsating Tonsil Due to Medial Displacement of the Internal Carotid Artery

Unusual clinical course, Challenging differential diagnosis, Diagnostic / therapeutic accidents, Educational Purpose (only if useful for a systematic review or synthesis)

Albaraa Y. Alsini, Alsheikhi M Ibrahim

Department of Otolaryngology, Al Hada Armed Forces Hospital, Taif, Saudi Arabia

Am J Case Rep 2017; 18:502-506

DOI: 10.12659/AJCR.902915

Available online:

Published: 2017-05-06

BACKGROUND: The internal carotid artery (ICA) is about 2.5 cm away from the tonsils. It has no branches in the cervical portion. ICA anomalies of the neck zone may result in a massive arterial bleeding during pharynx and neck surgery. Due to these anomalies, the surgeon must be aware of this risk during tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, and pharyngeal operations. 
CASE REPORT: A 23-year-old woman who was discovered to have an acute S curling-type anomaly of the ICA in contact with the lateral border of the right tonsil during a work-up for a tonsillectomy. This anomaly was incidentally discovered via computed tomography (CT) with contrast. In re-evaluating the course of treatment, we found a severe S-shape kink on the right side, bringing it close to the right tonsil by approximately 2 mm, and putting it at severe risk of injury during a simple tonsillectomy, possibly exposing the patient to serious bleeding. Partial tonsillectomy was performed for this patient with the aim to preserve and not expose the internal carotid artery. Pulsation of right tonsil was recorded. The patient made an uneventful postoperative recovery.
CONCLUSIONS: Undetected ICA anomaly variation can lead to fatal bleeding during a simple procedure, like tonsillectomy. We recommend vigilance during tonsillectomy if one is using a hot dissection method versus a cold dissection method, which may allow for detection of a perioperative ICA anomaly. Tonsillectomy performed by a junior resident should be under direct supervision, particularly if the hot dissection method is used.

Keywords: Anatomy, Carotid Artery Diseases, Imaging, Three-Dimensional, Neck Dissection, Palatine Tonsil, Pharynx