The pathophysiology of thoracic aortic aneurysm and dissection is poorly understood, despite high mortality. An evidence review was conducted to examine the biomechanical, chemical and genetic factors involved in thoracic aortic pathology. The composition of connective tissue and smooth muscle cells can mediate important mechanical properties that allow the thoracic aorta to withstand and transmit pressures. Genetic syndromes can affect connective tissue and signalling proteins that interrupt smooth muscle function, leading to tissue failure. There are complex interplaying factors that maintain thoracic aortic function in health and are disrupted in disease, signifying an area for extensive research.