Vasopressor use in patients undergoing autologous free tissue transfer is generally discouraged by surgeons perioperatively. This stems from concerns about the increased risk of flap failure with their use. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate the evidence and quantify any harm or benefits associated with vasopressor use.
A systematic review of the literature was undertaken using OVID Medline to search 13 databases. The search strategy used Boolean operators, text word searches, truncation symbols, and adjacency searching. Terms such as “free flap,” “free tissue graft,” and “free tissue transfer” were used along with a list of appropriate vasopressors. The primary outcome was free flap failure, on which a meta-analysis was performed.
The search initially identified 1029 unique articles, which after title and abstract screening was reduced to 112, of which 15 remained after full-text screening for inclusion in the review and analysis. We analyzed data from 8427 flaps, with 6695 having received a vasopressor. Meta-analysis demonstrated that vasopressor use reduced the relative risk (RR) of free flap failure (RR: 0.70; 95% CI: 0.50–0.97; p = 0.03) but did not affect rates of other adverse events (RR: 0.81; 95% CI: 0.63–1.05; p = 0.11).
Vasopressor use appears beneficial for autologous free tissue transfer, with evidence that it reduced the risk of flap failure without impacting the rates of other adverse events. The use of vasopressors should, therefore, be encouraged on a case-by-case basis, depending upon the general physiological needs of the patient.
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Published online: August 28, 2022
Accepted: August 18, 2022
Received: March 17, 2022
Publication stageIn Press Journal Pre-Proof
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