Surgery of the descending and thoracoabdominal aorta has been associated with post-operative paraparesis or paraplegia. Different strategies, which can be operative or non-operative, have been developed to minimise the incidence of neurological complications after aortic surgery. This review serves to summarise the current practice of spinal cord protection during surgery of the descending thoracoabdominal aortic surgery. The pathophysiology of spinal cord ischaemia will also be explained. The incidence of spinal cord ischaemia and subsequent neurological complications was associated with (1) the duration and severity of ischaemia, (2) failure to establish spinal cord supply and (3) reperfusion injury. The blood supply of the spinal cord has been extensively studied and the significance of the artery of Adamkiewicz (ASA) being recognised. This helps us to understand the pathophysiology of spinal cord ischaemia during descending and thoracoabdominal aortic operation. Techniques of monitoring of spinal cord function using evoked potential have been developed. Preoperative identification of ASA facilitates the identification of critical intercostal vessels for reimplantation, resulting in re-establishment of spinal cord blood flow. Different surgical techniques have been developed to reduce the duration of ischaemia and this includes the latest transluminal techniques. Severity of ischaemia can be minimised by the use of CSF drainage, hypothermia, partial bypass and the use of adjunctive pharmacological therapy. Reperfusion injury can be reduced with the use of anti-oxidant therapy. The aetiology of neurological complications after descending and thoracoabdominal aortic surgery has been well described and attempts have been made to minimise this incidence based on our knowledge of the pathophysiology of spinal cord ischaemia. However, our understanding of the development and prevention of these complications require further investigation in the clinical setting before surgery on descending and thoracoabdominal aorta to be performed with negligible occurrence of these disabling neurological problems.

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