Microvascular Lifeboats: A Stepwise Approach to Intraoperative Venous Congestion in DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction

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The deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap is becoming a widely practiced method of autologous breast reconstruction. Although it has been shown to be a safe and reliable technique with acceptable morbidity, disadvantages include a comparatively higher incidence of venous congestion and total flap loss compared with autologous reconstruction with a pedicled or free transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous flap. Venous congestion is reported in up to one-third of cases of breast reconstruction with a DIEP flap. If venous congestion is detected and addressed intraoperatively compared with postoperatively, outcomes are significantly improved. A wide variety of techniques have been introduced to augment venous drainage to treat congestion and prevent flap failure. Here, the authors offer a comprehensive review of techniques available to address intraoperative venous congestion in DIEP flaps for breast reconstruction. From this review, the authors propose a stepwise, algorithmic approach to diagnosing and treating this potentially devastating complication.

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