The endothelial glycocalyx is an important part of the vascular barrier. The glycocalyx is intimately linked to the homoeostatic functions of the endothelium. Damage to the glycocalyx precedes vascular pathology. In the first part of this paper, we have reviewed the structure, physiology and pathology of the endothelial glycocalyx, based on a literature search of the past five years. In the second part, we have systematically reviewed interventions to protect or repair the glycocalyx. Glycocalyx damage can be caused by hypervolaemia and hyperglycaemia and can be prevented by maintaining a physiological concentration of plasma protein, particularly albumin. Other interventions have been investigated in animal models: these require clinical research before their introduction into medical practice.
© 2014 The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.