Cleft Palate Outcomes and Prognostic Impact of Palatal Fistula on Subsequent Velopharyngeal Function-A Retrospective Cohort Study

Cleft Palate Craniofac J. 2019 Sep;56(8):1008-1012. doi: 10.1177/1055665619829388. Epub 2019 Feb 12.


Objective: To assess outcomes from cleft palate repair and define the level of impact of palatal fistula on subsequent velopharyngeal function.

Design: A retrospective cohort study.

Setting: A regional specialist cleft lip and palate center within United Kingdom.

Patients, participants: Nonsyndromic infants born between 2002 and 2009 undergoing cleft palate primary surgery by a single surgeon with audited outcomes at 5 years of age. Four hundred ten infants underwent cleft palate surgery within this period and 271 infants met the inclusion criteria.

Interventions: Cleft palate repair including levator palati muscle repositioning with or without lateral palatal release.

Main outcome measures: Postoperative fistula development and velopharyngeal function at 5 years of age.

Results: Lateral palatal incisions were required in 57% (156/271) of all cases. The fistula rate was 10.3% (28/271). Adequate palatal function with no significant velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI) was achieved in 79% of patients (213/271) after primary surgery only. Palatal fistula was significantly associated with subsequent VPI (risk ratio = 3.03, 95% confidence interval: 1.95-4.69; P < .001). The rate of VPI increased from 18% to 54% when healing was complicated by fistula. Bilateral cleft lip and palate (BCLP) repair complicated by fistula had the highest incidence of VPI (71%).

Conclusions: Cleft palate repair with levator muscle repositioning is an effective procedure with good outcomes. The prognostic impact of palatal fistula on subsequent velopharyngeal function is defined with a highly significant 3-fold increase in VPI. Early repair of palatal fistula should be considered, particularly for large fistula and in BCLP cases.

Keywords: palatoplasty; soft palate; surgical complications; surgical technique; velopharyngeal function.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cleft Palate* / surgery
  • Fistula*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Palate, Hard* / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United Kingdom
  • Velopharyngeal Insufficiency*