Recent reports of breast reconstruction with the deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap indicate increased fat necrosis and venous congestion as compared with the free transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) flap. Although the benefits of the DIEP flap regarding the abdominal wall are well documented, its reconstructive advantage remains uncertain. The main objective of this study was to address selection criteria for the free TRAM and DIEP flaps on the basis of patient characteristics and vascular anatomy of the flap that might minimize flap morbidity. A total of 163 free TRAM or DIEP flap breast reconstructions were performed on 135 women between 1997 and 2000. Four levels of muscle sparing related to the rectus abdominis muscle were used. The free TRAM flap was performed on 118 women, of whom 93 were unilateral and 25 were bilateral, totaling 143 flaps. The DIEP flap procedure was performed on 17 women, of whom 14 were unilateral and three were bilateral, totaling 20 flaps. Morbidities related to the 143 free TRAM flaps included return to the operating room for 11 flaps (7.7 percent), total necrosis in five flaps (3.5 percent), mild fat necrosis in 14 flaps (9.8 percent), mild venous congestion in two flaps (1.4 percent), and lower abdominal bulge in eight women (6.8 percent). Partial flap necrosis did not occur. Morbidities related to the 20 DIEP flaps included return to the operating room for three flaps (15 percent), total necrosis in one flap (5 percent), and mild fat necrosis in two flaps (10 percent). Partial flap necrosis, venous congestion, and a lower abdominal bulge were not observed. Selection of the free TRAM or DIEP flap should be made on the basis of patient weight, quantity of abdominal fat, and breast volume requirement, and on the number, caliber, and location of the perforating vessels. Occurrence of venous congestion and total flap loss in the free TRAM and DIEP flaps appears to be independent of the patient age, weight, degree of muscle sparing, and tobacco use. The occurrence of fat necrosis is related to patient weight (p < 0.001) but not related to patient age or preservation of the rectus abdominis muscle. The ability to perform a sit-up is related to patient weight (p < 0.001) and patient age (p < 0.001) but not related to preservation of the muscle or intercostal nerves. The incidence of lower abdominal bulge is reduced after DIEP flap reconstruction (p < 0.001). The DIEP flap can be an excellent option for properly selected women.
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