Comparison of Abdominal Recovery After SIEA, DIEP, TRAM Flap Breast Reconstruction

By: Dr. Minas Chrysopoulo


Is there a difference in recovery between the different abdominal flap breast reconstruction options?

A study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery examined the abdominal recovery rates and patient satisfaction after breast reconstruction with different abdominal flaps: the DIEPSIEA  and muscle-sparing free TRAM.

The SIEA (superficial inferior epigastric artery) flap is the least invasive method of lower abdominal flap breast reconstruction; however, there are no published reports comparing the donor-site morbidity of SIEA flaps to that of TRAM (transverse rectus abdominis myocutaneous) flaps or DIEP (deep inferior epigastric artery perforator) flaps.

The authors of the study used a 12-question patient survey and retrospective chart review to compare donor-site (abdominal) function, pain, and aesthetics in 179 patients who had unilateral or bilateral breast reconstruction with 47 SIEA flaps, 49 DIEP flaps, and 136 muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps during a 5-year period.

Unilateral SIEA flap patients scored higher on 10 of the 12 survey questions compared with unilateral muscle-sparing TRAM flap patients, including reporting significantly better postoperative lifting ability.

Abdominal pain also seemed to lessen sooner in the unilateral SIEA group (though this was not statistically significant) when compared to the muscle-sparing free TRAM group. Bilateral breast reconstruction patients with at least one SIEA flap scored higher on all 12 survey questions, including reporting significantly better ability to get out of bed (sit-up motion) compared with patients with bilateral muscle-sparing TRAM or DIEP flaps. The greatest benefit of the SIEA flap occurs in cases of bilateral breast reconstruction where at least one of the flaps used is an SIEA flap. There were no differences between patients that had undergone reconstruction of only 1 breast (unilateral) with an SIEA flap versus those that had had a DIEP flap.

The authors' conclusions were that breast reconstruction using SIEA flaps results in significantly less abdominal donor-site issues than DIEP flaps in bilateral cases and free muscle-sparing TRAM flaps in both unilateral and bilateral cases. The authors felt that these differences were "clinically relevant" and recommended that SIEA flaps be used whenever possible in preference to DIEP or muscle-sparing free TRAM flaps for breast reconstruction.

These findings are not surprising on the whole; they make sense considering that the SIEA flap procedure requires the least amount of surgical dissection while the muscle-sparing free TRAM is the most invasive (due to removal of some of the rectus abdominis muscle). One would expect recovery to be easiest in patients that undergo the least invasive surgery and this is essentially what this study has shown.

Interestingly, in patients undergoing unilateral breast reconstruction (one breast only), DIEP flaps are just as good as SIEA flaps in terms of recovery and patient satisfaction even though the DIEP procedure is slightly more invasive.

Learn More About DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction

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