How Do I Salvage That Flap?; An Evidence-Based Primer on Salvage Techniques for Head & Neck Microvascular Free Flaps

Submitted by:

Travis Hathorn MS4
University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine


Travis Hathorn


Background: Interventional strategies for dealing with microvascular free flap failure are varied among institutions and even individual surgeons. This systematic review aims to identify the published methods for salvaging a failing free flap and provide surgeons with a comprehensive toolset for successful intervention.
Methods: A title and abstract search of the PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science databases was performed. 1,694 abstracts were screened by three reviewers according to Prisma guidelines.
Results: 62 full text articles meeting inclusion criteria detailed techniques which were separated into the categories of thrombectomy, thrombolysis, leech therapy, vascular fistula, and an “other” category outlining techniques which did not fit into the prior framework.
Conclusions: Assessment of the efficacy of individual salvage techniques is limited due to limited empirical data. Approach to successful salvage should be based on timely identification of flap compromise, followed by the implementation of one or several of the aforementioned techniques.


To systematically review the current body of literature on free flap salvage techniques

To identify new and novel free flap salvage techniques

To develop an algorithm of intervention on threatened free flaps based on documented evidence