A Prospective Study of Microvascular Free-Flap Surgery and Outcome

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Abstract

Over a 6-month period, 23 members of the International Microvascular Research Group participated in a prospective survey of their microvascular free-flap practice. Data were recorded with each case for 60 variables covering patient characteristics, surgical technique, pharmacologic treatment, and postoperative outcome. A total of 493 free flaps were reported with a representative demographic distribution for age, sex, indications for surgery, risk factors, flap type, surgical technique, and pharmacologic intervention. Mixed effects logistic regression modeling was used to determine predictors of flap failure and associated complications. The overall incidence of flap failure was 4.1 percent (20 of 493). Reconstruction of an irradiated recipient site and the use of a skin-grafted muscle flap were the only statistically significant predictors of flap failure, with increased odds of failure of 4.2 (p = 0.01) and 11.1 (p = 0.03), respectively. A postoperative thrombosis requiring re-exploration surgery occurred in 9.9 percent of the flaps. The incidence of this complication was significantly higher when the flap was transferred to a chronic wound and when vein grafts were needed, with increased odds of failure of 2.9 (p = 0.02) and 2.5 (p = 0.02), respectively. There was a lower incidence of postoperative thrombosis when rectus/transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) flaps were used, where odds of failure decreased by 0.36 (p = 0.04), and when subcutaneous heparin was administered in the postoperative period, where odds decreased by 0.27 (p = 0.04). There was an overall 69-percent salvage rate for flaps identified with a postoperative thrombosis. Intraoperative thrombosis occurred in 41 cases (8.3 percent) and was observed more frequently in myocutaneous flaps or when vein grafts were needed (5.5 and 5.0 greater odds, respectively; p < 0.001) but was not associated with higher flap failure (2 of 41 cases; 4.9-percent failure rate). The incidence of a hematoma and/or hemorrhage was increased in obese patients and when vein grafts were needed [2.7 (p = 0.02) and 2.6 (p = 0.03) greater odds, respectively], whereas this complication was significantly decreased in muscle flaps (myocutaneous or skin-grafted muscle), in tobacco users, when a heparinized solution was used for general wound irrigation, and when the attending surgeon performed the arterial anastomosis (in contrast to the resident or fellow on staff) (p < 0.05 for each factor). With the multivariable analysis, many factors were found not to have a significant effect on flap outcome, including the recipient site (e.g., head/neck, breast, lower limb, etc.); indications for surgery (trauma, cancer, etc.); flap transfer in extremes of age, smokers, or diabetics; arterial anastomosis with an end-to-end versus end-to-side technique; irrigation of the vessel without or with heparin added to the irrigation solution; and a wide spectrum of antithrombotic drug therapies. These results present a current baseline for free-flap surgery to which future advances and improvements in technique and practice may be compared. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 102: 711, 1998.)

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