Increased experience with free-tissue transfer has minimized flap loss secondary to microvascular thrombosis, yet pharmacologic antithrombotic prophylaxis continues to be used routinely. Currently there is no consensus on the ideal pharmacologic agent, dosing, or efficacy. Low-molecular-weight dextran has been widely used for prophylaxis due to its properties of volume expansion and enhanced microrheology. Significant systemic morbidity (pulmonary morbidity, cardiac morbidity, anaphylaxis) is known to occur with use of low-molecular-weight dextran. The purpose of this study was to evaluate morbidity associated with postoperative low-molecular-weight dextran and aspirin prophylaxis in head and neck microsurgery patients. This study was a randomized prospective analysis of 100 consecutive patients undergoing microvascular reconstruction for head and neck malignancy during a 2-year period. Patients were randomized into one of three postoperative antithrombotic prophylaxis treatment groups: low-molecular-weight dextran 20 cc/hour for 48 hours (n = 35), low-molecular-weight dextran 20 cc/hour for 120 hours (n = 32), or aspirin 325 mg/day for 120 hours (n = 27). Six patients were excluded intraoperatively due to the need for systemic heparin therapy. Treatment groups were compared for age, sex, prior medical problems, duration of anesthesia, and intraoperative fluid intake. Flap outcome and the incidence of local and systemic complications were evaluated in the treatment groups. Patient ages ranged from 12 to 84 years (mean age, 58 years). No significant difference was found among the treatment groups with respect to age, sex, prior medical problems, duration of anesthesia, intraoperative fluid intake, and the distribution of donor and recipient sites. There were no total flap losses and two partial flap losses in this series. Three flaps were reexplored and all were salvaged. The incidence of systemic complications (congestive heart failure, myocardial infarction, pulmonary edema, pleural effusion, and pneumonia) was as follows: low-molecular-weight dextran 120 hours, 51 percent; low-molecular-weight dextran 48 hours, 29 percent; and aspirin, 7 percent. Analysis of these data suggests that the method of prophylaxis had no effect on overall flap survival. However, the incidence of systemic complications was significantly related to the method of prophylaxis, with patients receiving low-molecular-weight dextran 120 hours and 48 hours at a 7.2 and 3.9 times greater relative risk, respectively, of developing a systemic complication compared with patients receiving aspirin. The results of this study have eliminated the routine use of low-molecular-weight dextran prophylaxis at our institution in an effort to reduce morbidity in head and neck microsurgical reconstruction.
New York, N.Y.
From the Plastic Surgery and Head and Neck Surgery Services, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Received for publication November 20, 2002;
revised January 23, 2003.
Joseph J. Disa, M.D.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
1275 York Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10021
Presented at the 70th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in Orlando, Florida, November 3 to 7, 2001.