Temporary neurological dysfunction after surgery of the thoracic aorta: a predictor of poor outcome and impaired quality of life

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Transient neurological dysfunction (TND) consists of postoperative confusion, delirium and agitation. It is underestimated after surgery on the thoracic aorta and its influence on long-term quality of life (QoL) has not yet been studied. This study aimed to assess the influence of TND on short- and long-term outcome following surgery of the ascending aorta and proximal arch.


Nine hundred and seven patients undergoing surgery of the ascending aorta and the proximal aortic arch at our institution were included. Two hundred and ninety patients (31.9%) underwent surgery because of acute aortic dissection type A (AADA) and 617 patients because of aortic aneurysm. In 547 patients (60.3%) the distal anastomosis was performed using deep hypothermic circulatory arrest (DHCA). TND was defined as a Glasgow coma scale (GCS) value <13. All surviving patients had a clinical follow up and QoL was assessed with an SF-36 questionnaire.


Overall in-hospital mortality was 8.3%. TND occurred in 89 patients (9.8%). As compared to patients without TND, those who suffered from TND were older (66.4 vs 59.9 years, p < 0.01) underwent more frequently emergent procedures (53% vs 32%, p < 0.05) and surgery under DHCA (84.3% vs 57.7%, p < 0.05). However, duration of DHCA and extent of surgery did not influence the incidence of TND. In-hospital mortality in the group of patients with TND compared to the group without TND was similar (12.0% vs 11.4%; p = ns). Patients with TND suffered more frequently from coronary artery disease (28% vs 20.8%, p = ns) and were more frequently admitted in a compromised haemodynamic condition (23.6% vs 9.9%, p < 0.05). Postoperative course revealed more pulmonary complications such as prolonged mechanical ventilation. Additional to their transient neurological dysfunction, significantly more patients had strokes with permanent neurological loss of function (14.6% vs 4.8%, p < 0.05) compared to the patients without TND. ICU and hospital stay were significantly prolonged in TND patients (18 ± 13 days vs 12 ± 7 days, p < 0.05). Over a mean follow-up interval of 27 ± 14 months, patients with TND showed a significantly impaired QoL.


The neurological outcome following surgery of the ascending aorta and proximal aortic arch is of paramount importance. The impact of TND on short- and long-term outcome is underestimated and negatively affects the short- and long-term outcome.

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