Background: Hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass with or without circulatory arrest has been used successfully for the treatment of complex aneurysms of the descending thoracic and thoracoabdominal aorta. Hypothermia has a protective effect on spinal cord function, and its use has been associated with a low incidence of paraplegia in traditionally high-risk patients. Experimentally, the protective effect of hypothermia has been related to amelioration of excitotoxic injury by reduction of neurotransmitter release and to inhibition of delayed apoptotic cell death.
Methods: During a 12-year period, 114 patients with descending thoracic or thoracoabdominal aortic disease underwent replacement of the involved aortic segments using hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass and intervals of circulatory arrest.
Results: The hospital mortality was 8% (9 patients). Paraplegia occurred in 2 and paraparesis in 1 of the 108 patients whose lower limb function was assessed postoperatively (2.8%). None of 40 patients with aortic dissection and none of the last 81 patients in the series developed paralysis.
Conclusions: Our experience with hypothermic cardiopulmonary bypass and circulatory arrest confirms that hypothermia provides substantial protection against paraplegia, and it allows complex operations on the descending thoracic and thoracoabdominal aorta to be performed with acceptable mortality.