Background: Intrathoracic fistulas pose unique challenges for thoracic and reconstructive surgeons. To decrease the incidence of fistula recurrence, pedicled flaps have been suggested to buttress the repair site. The authors aimed to report their experience with muscle flap transposition for the management of intrathoracic fistulas. Methods: A retrospective review of all patients who underwent intrathoracic muscle flap transposition for the management of intrathoracic fistulas from 1990 to 2010 was conducted. Patient demographics, surgical characteristics, and complication rates were abstracted and analyzed. Results: A total of 198 patients were identified. Bronchopleural fistula was present in 156 of the patients (79 percent), and 48 had esophageal fistula (24 percent). A total of 238 flaps were used, constituting an average of 1.2 flaps per patient. After the initial fistula repair, bronchopleural fistula complicated the course of 34 patients (17 percent), and esophageal fistula occurred in 13 patients (7 percent). Partial flap loss was identified in 11 flaps (6 percent), and total flap loss occurred in four flaps (2 percent). Median follow-up was 27 months. At the last follow-up, 182 of the patients (92 percent) had no evidence of fistula, 175 (89 percent) achieved successful chest closure, and 164 (83 percent) had successful treatment. Preoperative radiation therapy and American Society of Anesthesiologists score of 4 or greater were identified as risk factors for unsuccessful treatment. Conclusions: Intrathoracic fistulas remain a source of major morbidity and mortality. Reinforcement of the fistula closure with vascularized muscle flaps is a viable option for preventing dehiscence of the repair site and can be potentially life-saving.
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