Speech Outcomes After Clinically Indicated Posterior Pharyngeal Flap Takedown

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Velopharyngeal insufficiency affects as many as one in three patients after cleft palate repair. Correction using a posterior pharyngeal flap (PPF) has been shown to improve clinical speech symptomatology; however, PPFs can be complicated by hyponasality and obstructive sleep apnea. The goal of this study was to assess if speech outcomes revert after clinically indicated PPF takedown.


The cleft-craniofacial database of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was retrospectively queried to identify patients with a diagnosis of velopharyngeal insufficiency treated with PPF who ultimately required takedown. Using the Pittsburgh Weighted Speech Score (PWSS), preoperative scores were compared to those after PPF takedown. Outcomes after 2 different methods of PPF takedown (PPF takedown alone or PPF takedown with conversion to Furlow palatoplasty) were stratified and cross-compared.


A total of 64 patients underwent takedown of their PPF. Of these, 18 patients underwent PPF takedown alone, and 46 patients underwent PPF takedown with conversion to Furlow Palatoplasty. Patients averaged 12.43 (range, 3.0–22.0)(SD: 3.93) years of age at the time of PPF takedown, and 58% were men. Demographics between groups were not statistically different. The mean duration of follow-up after surgery was 38.09 (range, 1–104) (SD, 27.81) months. For patients undergoing PPF takedown alone, the mean preoperative and postoperative PWSS was 3.83 (range, 0.0–23.0) (SD, 6.13) and 4.11 (range, 0.0–23.0) (SD, 5.31), respectively (P = 0.89). The mean change in PWSS was 0.28 (range, −9.0 to 7.0) (SD, 4.3). For patients undergoing takedown of PPF with conversion to Furlow palatoplasty, the mean preoperative and postoperative PWSS was 6.37 (range, 0–26) (SD, 6.70) and 3.11 (range, 0.0–27.0) (SD, 4.14), respectively (P < 0.01). The mean change in PWSS was −3.26 (range, −23.0 to 4.0) (SD, 4.3). For all patients, the mean preoperative PWSS was 5.66 (range, 0.0–26) (SD, 6.60) and 3.39 (range, 0.0–27) (SD, 4.48), respectively (P < 0.05). The mean change in PWSS was −2.26 (range, −23.0 to 7) (SD, 5.7). There was no statistically significant regression in PWSS for either surgical intervention. Two patients in the PPF takedown alone cohort demonstrated deterioration in PWSS that warranted delayed conversion to Furlow palatoplasty. Approximately 90% of patients, who undergo clinically indicated PPF takedown alone, without conversion to Furlow Palatoplasty, will show no clinically significant reduction in speech.


Although there is concern that PPF takedown may degrade speech, this study finds that surgical takedown of PPF, when clinically indicated, does not result in a clinically significant regression of speech.

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