Complications of cerebrospinal fluid drainage after thoracic aortic surgery: A review of 504 patients over 5 years

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Cerebrospinal fluid drainage, a well-established means of preventing paraplegia after thoracic aortic aneurysm surgery, can result in serious, sometimes lethal complications. In a large group of patients who underwent surgical thoracic aortic aneurysm repair with cerebrospinal fluid drainage, we examined the incidences of and potential risk factors for these outcomes.


The records were reviewed of 504 patients who underwent surgical thoracic aortic aneurysm repair with cerebrospinal fluid drainage at the Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital between February 2005 and December 2009. All historical data, inpatient records, and billing data were searched for evidence of complications.


Of the 504 patients, 14 (2.8%) had intracranial hemorrhage, of whom 10 (72%) had subdural hematoma. Postdural puncture headache developed in 49 patients (9.7%), of whom 17 (34.6%) required epidural blood patch placement for resolution. Multivariable analysis identified having a connective tissue disorder (odds ratio, 3.08; 95% confidence interval, 1.33-7.13) as an independent predictor of postdural puncture headache, but not age less than 40 years (odds ratio, 0.97; 95% confidence interval, 0.94-0.99).


Cerebrospinal fluid drainage, as performed by our method, seems to be associated with a modest rate of intracranial bleeding in patients who undergo surgical thoracic aortic aneurysm repair. In contrast, postdural puncture headache is not uncommon, particularly in patients with connective tissue disease. Clinicians caring for these patients should consider the likelihood of postdural puncture headache, and any such patient with postoperative headache should be assessed for epidural blood patch placement.

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