Obesity can be a contraindication for TRAM flap breast reconstruction. This study reviewed the authors' experience with free TRAM and pedicled TRAM flap breast reconstruction in the obese patient to examine the complication rates associated with each reconstructive method and to determine whether TRAM flap reconstruction can safely be used in these high-risk patients. The records of 221 consecutive TRAM flap reconstructions were reviewed. Preoperative risk factors for morbidity were noted, as well as the incidence of TRAM flap success, operative time, length of hospital stay, and postoperative complications. Patients were categorized as obese if their body mass index was greater than 25.8 kg/m2. Data were tabulated using contingency tables and analyzed using chi-squared statistics. Multiple logistic regression was used to determine risk factors for flap complications. Of the 221 patients studied, 114 patients were found to be obese (body mass index >25.8 kg/m2). Of these 114 patients, 78 were reconstructed with free TRAM flaps and 36 were reconstructed with pedicled flaps. In these obese patients, the average body mass index was 32 kg/m2 in the free TRAM and 30 kg/m2 in the pedicled TRAM flap reconstructions. There were no significant differences between groups with regard to age or preoperative risk factors. Length of hospital stay and operative time did not differ significantly between the two reconstructive methods. The average duration of follow-up was 24 months in both groups. Complications occurred in 26 percent of free TRAM flap reconstructions and 33 percent of pedicled reconstructions. There was no significant difference between reconstructive methods with regard to overall complication rates. Increasing body mass index was found to have a significant effect on free TRAM flap complications (p = 0.008) but not on pedicled TRAM flap complications. There were no partial or total flap losses in obese free TRAM flap patients; however, there was one case of total flap loss and four cases of partial flap loss in the obese pedicled TRAM flap group. The incidence of flap loss was significantly higher when pedicled TRAM flaps were used for reconstruction in obese patients (p = 0.04). Obese patients who underwent reconstruction with pedicled TRAM flaps were more likely to experience a complication if they also smoked (p = 0.001). There was no significant difference in operating time or length of stay when pedicled and free TRAM flap reconstructions in obese patients were compared. There were more cases of flap necrosis in the pedicled TRAM flap group. Free TRAM flaps may provide some benefit in reducing partial flap loss in obese patients, but overall complication rates were not significantly different between reconstructive methods. Of 114 patients, there was only one case of total reconstructive failure. From these findings, it seems that the free or pedicled TRAM flap can be used successfully for breast reconstruction in the majority of patients with obesity. Surgeons should use the technique with which they are most familiar to obtain consistent results.
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