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Is DIEP Flap Surgery Safe?

DIEP flap surgery, (Deep Inferior Epigastric Artery Perforator) involves taking skin and tissue from the patient’s abdomen in order to recreate a breast.  During this surgery, a team of microsurgeons removes small blood vessels in the abdomen and reattaches them in the chest in order to use the abdominal tissue to recreate a breast.  These blood vessels are extremely small, generally less than two millimeters in diameter, so it takes a very skilled team to perform the surgery successfully.

As with any major surgery, DIEP flap surgery also has risks.  Common risks from major surgeries can include excessive bleeding, infection, the wound opening, asymmetry, and deep vein thrombosis.  These risks are very uncommon in DIEP flap surgery, and can be avoided by choosing a highly qualified and experienced team of surgeons.

A major complication directly related to the small size of the blood vessels used in this procedure is called partial or total flap loss.  The potential for blood flow to the new breast tissue to be interrupted by blood clotting in the vessels is related to the positioning of the vessels at the time of the surgery, but also to factors within the blood vessels that cannot always be accounted for preoperatively. Although this is not dangerous to the patient’s health, the restriction of blood flow to the new breast tissue can cause some of the tissue to become damaged, requiring additional surgery to reopen the vessels or remove the damaged tissue.  The highest risk for this complication is in the first 48-72 hours, and you are monitored very closely during this time.

In order to lessen the risk of all complications, it is beneficial that the patient is in good physical condition.  Patients should also be sure to select a team of microsurgeons that are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, who have years of experience in performing this procedure.  Patients can expect a full recovery from this surgery, and most women are very satisfied with the results.