Reliable assessment of skin flap viability using orthogonal polarization imaging

Wendy Ann M. Olivier, Alexes Hazen, Jamie P. Levine, Hooman Soltanian, Seum Chung, Geoffrey C. Gurtner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Intraoperative evaluation of skin flap viability has primarily been dependent on clinical judgment. The purpose of this study was to determine whether an orthogonal polarization spectral imaging device could be used to accurately predict viability of random-pattern skin flaps. Orthogonal polarization spectral imaging is a newly developed technique that visualizes the microcirculation using reflected light without the use of fluorescent dyes and allows for noninvasive real-time observation of functional microvascular networks. In Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 24), three types of random skin flaps were designed with unknown zones of viability (n = 8 per group). After flap elevation, the skin flaps were evaluated by both clinical examination and orthogonal polarization spectral imaging. Areas of the flap determined to be nonviable by clinical examination were measured and marked. Orthogonal polarization spectral imaging was subsequently performed, and areas of the skin flap with stasis (i.e., cessation of red blood cell movement) in the dermal microcirculation on orthogonal polarization spectral imaging were measured and marked. The skin flaps were then secured in place. Flaps were evaluated on a daily basis for clinical signs of ischemia and necrosis. On postoperative day 7, the total amount of random skin flap necrosis was measured and recorded. Clinical examination of the random skin flaps significantly underestimated the actual amount of eventual flap necrosis, and as result was a very poor predictor of flap necrosis. By contrast, assessment of microcirculatory stasis using the orthogonal polarization spectral imaging device correlated well with the subsequent development of necrosis in all groups. In the three groups, the average amount of flap necrosis predicted by clinical examination deviated from actual necrosis by approximately 2 to 4 cm. However, the amount that orthogonal polarization spectral imaging differed from actual necrosis was 0.1 to 0.3 cm. Therefore, orthogonal polarization spectral imaging was an excellent predictor of eventual flap necrosis and much more accurate than clinical observation (p < 0.001). Intraoperative evaluation of axial and random pattern flap viability has traditionally been based on clinical examination as no other reliable, convenient test currently exists. The authors demonstrated that an orthogonal polarization spectral imaging device accurately predicts zones of necrosis in random pattern flaps by directly visualizing cessation of microcirculatory flow. Intraoperative stasis in the dermal microcirculation correlated precisely with subsequent flap necrosis. Orthogonal polarization spectral imaging was significantly more accurate than clinical examination, which consistently underestimated flap necrosis. The orthogonal polarization spectral imaging technique may have value in the intraoperative assessment of skin flap perfusion such as that required after skin-sparing mastectomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)547-555
Number of pages9
JournalPlastic and reconstructive surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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