Risk of Pneumothorax with Internal Mammary Vessel Utilization in Autologous Breast Reconstruction

Joseph A. Kelling, Anna Meade, Morgan Adkins, Andrew Y. Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background Complications associated with autologous breast reconstruction are well reported in the literature. Regardless of the type of free flap harvested, the anastomosis is most commonly performed to the recipient internal mammary vessels. Although pneumothorax is a known possible complication of breast surgery, incidence of pneumothorax in breast reconstruction involving the use of the internal mammary vessels is rarely discussed. The aim of our study was to determine the incidence of pneumothorax in deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap breast reconstruction. Methods A single-institution review was performed examining the incidence of pneumothorax in cases of DIEP flap breast reconstruction with anastomosis to the internal mammary vessels over a 4-year period. Intraoperative irrigation was used to visually assess for evidence of pneumothorax during recipient vessel dissection and anastomosis. Anteroposterior chest radiographs were obtained on the first postoperative day to assess for pneumothorax. Additional variables analyzed included type of retractor used during recipient vessel dissection and history of radiation. Results A total of 180 patients underwent autologous DIEP breast reconstruction at our institution. The overall incidence of pneumothorax was 1.4 per 100 recipient vessel dissections and 2.2 per 100 patients undergoing breast reconstruction. There was a total of 4 cases of pneumothorax. Three were attributed to unknown causes, and 1 was due to direct injury to the parietal pleura via electrocautery. Conclusion The use of the internal mammary artery and vein as recipient vessels continues to be the most common and reliable recipient for autologous breast reconstruction. Based on our data, pneumothorax does not seem to be a common complication of this procedure. If concern for iatrogenic injury to the pleura arises intraoperatively, we suggest the use of a saline bubble test to investigate the possible injury. Routine postoperative radiographs are not indicated unless the patient develops symptoms suggestive of pneumothorax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S184-S188
JournalAnnals of plastic surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • DIEP
  • Gelpi retractors
  • autologous breast reconstruction
  • complications
  • internal mammary vessels
  • pneumothorax
  • saline bubble test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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