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Effect of Obesity on Flap and Donor-Site Complications in Free Transverse Rectus Abdominis Myocutaneous Flap Breast Reconstruction

Chang, David W. M.D.; Wang, Bao-guang M.D., Ph.D.; Robb, Geoffrey L. M.D.; Reece, Gregory P. M.D.; Miller, Michael J. M.D.; Evans, Gregory R. D. M.D.; Langstein, Howard N. M.D.; Kroll, Stephen S. M.D.

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to assess the effect of obesity on flap and donor-site complications in patients undergoing free transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous (TRAM) flap breast reconstruction. All patients undergoing breast reconstruction with free TRAM flaps at our institution from February 1, 1989, through May 31, 1998, were reviewed. Patients were divided into three groups based on their body mass index: normal (body mass index <25), overweight (body mass index 25 to 29), obese (body mass index ≥30). Flap and donor-site complications in the three groups were compared.

A total of 936 breast reconstructions with free TRAM flaps were performed in 718 patients. There were 442 (61.6 percent) normal-weight, 212 (29.5 percent) overweight, and 64 (8.9 percent) obese patients. Flap complications occurred in 222 of 936 flaps (23.7 percent). Compared with normal-weight patients, obese patients had a significantly higher rate of overall flap complications (39.1 versus 20.4 percent;p = 0.001), total flap loss (3.2 versus 0 percent;p = 0.001), flap seroma (10.9 versus 3.2 percent;p = 0.004), and mastectomy flap necrosis (21.9 versus 6.6 percent;p = 0.001). Similarly, overweight patients had a significantly higher rate of overall flap complications (27.8 versus 20.4 percent;p = 0.033), total flap loss (1.9 versus 0 percent p = 0.004), flap hematoma (0 versus 3.2 percent;p = 0.007), and mastectomy flap necrosis (15.1 versus 6.6 percent;p = 0.001) compared with normal-weight patients. Donor-site complications occurred in 106 of 718 patients (14.8 percent). Compared with normal-weight patients, obese patients had a significantly higher rate of overall donor-site complications (23.4 versus 11.1 percent;p = 0.005), infection (4.7 versus 0.5 percent;p = 0.016), seroma (9.4 versus 0.9 percent;p <0.001), and hernia (6.3 versus 1.6 percent;p = 0.039). Similarly, overweight patients had a significantly higher rate of overall donor-site complications (19.8 versus 11.1 percent;p = 0.003), infection (2.4 versus 0.5 percent;p = 0.039), bulge (5.2 versus 1.8 percent;p = 0.016), and hernia (4.3 versus 1.6 percent;p = 0.039) compared with normal-weight patients. There were no significant differences in age distribution, smoking history, or comorbid conditions among the three groups of patients. Obese patients, however, had a significantly higher incidence of preoperative radiotherapy and preoperative chemotherapy than did patients in the other two groups. A total of 23.4 percent of obese patients had preoperative radiation therapy compared with 12.3 percent of overweight patients and 12.4 percent of normal-weight patients; 34.4 percent of obese patients had preoperative chemotherapy compared with 24.5 percent of overweight patients and 17.7 percent of normal-weight patients. Multiple logistic regression analysis was used to determine the risk factors for flap and donor-site complications while simultaneously controlling for potential confounding factors, including the incidence of preoperative chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

In summary, obese and overweight patients undergoing breast reconstruction with free TRAM flaps had significantly higher total flap loss, flap hematoma, flap seroma, mastectomy skin flap necrosis, donor-site infection, donor-site seroma, and hernia compared with normal-weight patients. There were no significant differences in the rate of partial flap loss, vessel thrombosis, fat necrosis, abdominal flap necrosis, or umbilical necrosis between any of the groups.

The majority of overweight and even obese patients who undertake breast reconstruction with free TRAM flaps complete the reconstruction successfully. Both such patients and surgeons, however, must clearly understand that the risk of failure and complications is higher than in normal-weight patients. Patients who are morbidly obese are at very high risk of failure and complications and should avoid any type of TRAM flap breast reconstruction.

©2000American Society of Plastic Surgeons

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