Venous Ischemia in Skin Flaps: Microcirculatory Intravascular Thrombosis

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Abstract

Although endothelial cell injury and microcirculatory intravascular clotting have been implicated in the patho-physiology of skin-flap failure and various hematologically active drugs have been used to improve flap survival, the basic underlying pathophysiology has not been documented previously. In this study of venous ischemia in pig flaps, we focus on the accumulation and distribution of platelets and fibrinogen in the flap, on the morphologic changes in the flap microcirculation, and on changes in various coagulation factors in the venous effluent from the flap.

Bilateral buttock skin flaps and latissimus dorsi myocutaneous flaps were designed and elevated on 12 pigs. All flaps had a primary ischemic insult (clamp application to the vascular pedicle) of 2 hours, followed by 2 hours of reperfusion, and then one side was subjected to a 6-hour period of secondary venous ischemia (clamp application to the dominant flap vein). In six animals, radioactively labeled autologous platelets and human fibrinogen were injected intravenously half an hour before termination of secondary venous ischemia. Flaps were weighed and counted for radioactivity. Flap biopsies and the buffy coat of venous effluent were processed for electron microscopy. In the other six animals, venous effluent was collected before secondary ischemia, upon immediate reperfusion, and at 4 and 8 hours after termination of secondary ischemia. Venous plasma levels of fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, and antithrombin III were measured.

Platelet and fibrinogen accumulation was increased in flaps with venous stasis when compared with control flaps at both time intervals studied; a twofold increase was seen prior to reperfusion, and a threefold increase was seen following 4 hours of reperfusion. Venous effluent could not be collected from buttock skin flaps because of slow reflow and clotting in the collecting system. In comparing the venous effluent of control flaps with that of venous ischemic latissimus dorsi flaps, hematocrit was significantly elevated. Blood samples collected for analysis of fibrinogen, antithrombin III, and von Willebrand factor could not be analyzed because of postcollection clotting. Electron microscopy showed extravasation of red blood cells and activated platelets, fibrin, and red blood cells in distended and partly disrupted capillaries.

The venous ischemia reperfusion injury is associated with thrombosis in the microcirculation and alterations in consumption of coagulation factors. This study gives physiologic support for potential beneficial effects of treatment modalities that aim at counteracting the different components of thrombus formation. (Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 93: 366, 1994.)

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