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Skin Flap

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 5, 2024.

What is a skin flap?

A skin flap is commonly used to cover a deep or large open wound, or repair damaged skin. A skin flap is a portion of skin that is moved from one area of the body to another. It is made up of all layers of the skin and some fatty tissue. A skin flap may also include muscle and cartilage. The area the skin flap will be taken from is called the donor site. One end of the skin flap often remains attached to the donor site and to its blood supply. The other end of the skin flap is moved to cover the wound. Skin flaps and their blood vessels may be completely removed from the donor site and connected to blood vessels at the flap site.

Which part of the body is a skin flap taken from?

A skin flap may be taken from any part of the body, but is usually taken from an area with loose skin. The skin flap is usually close to the wound or from the same area as the wound. It may also be taken from a different part of the body that is far from the wound. Skin flaps should look the same as the area where it will be placed. Healthcare providers will consider the skin color, texture (smoothness), hair growth, and thickness when they choose a donor site.

How is skin flap surgery done?

Surgery is done by cutting a part of your healthy skin at the donor site. The flap may be pulled, turned, or twisted to fit the wound perfectly. Skin flaps completely cut from the donor site will have their blood vessels reconnected to blood vessels at the flap site. The flap and the donor site are closed with stitches, staples, or skin glue. Dressings are placed on the wound to protect it from infection and help it heal faster. The dressing may be a bandage, film, or foam that contains certain substances that help with wound healing.

How does a skin flap heal?

A skin flap heals like a normal wound does. The flap is kept alive by the blood supplied by its own blood vessels. Over time, these blood vessels may grow and supply more blood to the area. Blood vessels in the flap that were cut usually connect with the blood vessels in the wound area. New blood vessels may also form.

What are the risks of having a skin flap?

A skin flap may put you at risk for other problems. You may get an infection or bleed more than expected. Scars may form on both the donor site and wound area. The skin may not look or feel the way you expected. The blood vessels in the skin flap may also be damaged as the skin flap is moved to another area. This risk may be higher if the donor site is far from the wound. When blood vessels get damaged, the blood supply and wound healing may decrease and may lead to skin death.

What may cause problems with a skin flap?

Some diseases or conditions may slow the healing process. These include diabetes, blocked or narrowed blood vessels, liver, kidney, lung, or heart conditions, and cancer. An infection or weak immune system may also slow down the healing process. A weak immune system may be caused by radiation, poor nutrition, and certain medicines, such as anticancer medicines or steroids. Older age may also decrease the body's ability to heal.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.