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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2001 Nov;122(5):935-45.

Stroke in surgery of the thoracic aorta: incidence, impact, etiology, and prevention.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.



To determine the incidence, impact, etiology, and methods for prevention of stroke after surgery of the thoracic aorta.


A total of 317 thoracic aortic operations on 303 patients (194 male, 109 female) aged 13 to 87 years (mean 61 years) were reviewed. There were 218 procedures on the ascending aorta and arch and 99 on the descending aorta. Of the 218 procedures on the ascending aorta and arch, 86 involved cardiopulmonary bypass, 122 involved deep hypothermic circulatory arrest, 2 involved antegrade cerebral perfusion, and 8 involved "clamp and sew" or left heart bypass. Of the 99 procedures on the descending aorta, 20 involved "clamp and sew," 69 involved left heart or full bypass, and 10 involved deep hypothermic circulatory arrest. A total of 206 cases were elective and 97 were emergency operations.


Twenty-three (7.3%) of 317 patients had a stroke. Fifteen strokes occurred in operations on the ascending aorta and 8 in operations on the descending aorta (6.9% vs 8.1%; P =.703). Stroke occurred in 16 (16.5%) of 97 emergency operations and 7 (3.4%) of 206 elective operations (P =.001). In the 300 patients surviving the operation, stroke was a significant predictor of postoperative death (9/23 [39.1%] vs 23/277 [8.3%]; P =.001). Analysis of operative reports, brain images, and neurologic consultations revealed 15 of the 23 strokes were embolic, 3 were ischemic, 3 hemorrhagic, and 2 indeterminate. Patients with stroke had longer intensive care unit stays (18.4 vs 6.8 days; P =.0001), longer times to extubation (12.7 vs 3.8 days; P <.0012), longer postoperative stays (31.4 vs 14.3 days; P =.001), and decreased age-adjusted survival (relative risk 2.775; P =.0013). After implementation of a rigorous antiembolic regimen, both strokes and mortality trended downward.


(1) Stroke complicates surgery of both the ascending and descending thoracic aorta and warrants consideration in decision making. (2) Strokes are largely embolic. (3) Antiembolic measures for particles and air are essential, including gentle aortic manipulation, thorough debridement, transesophageal echocardiography to identify aortic atheromas, carbon dioxide flooding of the field, and (in descending cases) proximal clamp application before initiating femoral perfusion.

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