Long-term survival analysis of free flap reconstruction in patients with collagen vascular disorders

Published:August 23, 2022DOI:



      Collagen vascular disorders (CVD) are inflammatory diseases that can affect the blood vessels and soft tissues. Patients with CVD are often immunosuppressed, prone to hyper-coagulation, and represent a challenging patient cohort for free tissue transfer.


      A retrospective review of patients with CVD who underwent free flap reconstructions from 2000–2020 was performed at our institution. Inclusion criteria were patients 18 years old or older with the clinical diagnosis of CVD, including rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud phenomenon, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, and sarcoidosis. A time-to-event analysis was performed to identify predictors of surgical complications.


      A total of 78 patients and 96 free flaps were included. The most common CVD were rheumatoid arthritis (n=36) and Raynaud's phenomenon (n=9). Type of flap included abdominal-based flap (26%), trunk-based flaps (32.3%), and extremity-based flaps (19.8%). The mean age was 56.7±14.6 years, and the mean BMI was 27.5±5.9 kg/m2. Antibody positivity was present in 25.6% of patients; 59% were on chronic steroids, 6.4% were on chronic anticoagulation, 35.9% had radiation therapy, and 29.5% had chemotherapy. Nine percent of patients had a history of prior flap loss, and 11.5% had a history of DVT or arterial thrombosis. The flap loss rate was 3.8%. Steroid treatment was associated with an increased risk of major complications after adjusting for the type of flap HR 2.5(1.3-4.9), p= 0.01. Specifically associated with a higher risk of cellulitis, OR 5.1 (1.1-24.5), p=0.02, and abscess, OR 5.7 (1.2-27.1), p=0.01.


      Free flap reconstruction can be safely performed in patients with CVD. Perioperative optimization of steroids is important to promote wound healing and stabilize disease activity.


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