Background: Orbital decompression has been used to describe surgical procedures that remove some portion of the orbital walls to reduce pressure on the orbital contents. Substantial morbidity associated with these procedures includes infraorbital anesthesia, worsened extraocular motility, globe displacement, and blindness. The authors believe that orbital contents also may be decompressed by removing orbital fat.
Methods: Eighty-one patients with nonactive Graves orbitopathy were selected for orbital fat decompression based on the presence of proptosis and associated signs and symptoms to avoid bone removal. Soft-tissue analysis by computed tomography (CT) scan showed distended pockets of fat extending into the intraconal space, which were removed through medial-upper and lateral-lower anterior orbitotomies. Decompression with bone removal was reserved for those few patients with compressive optic neuropathy unresponsive to medical treatment and those patients with residual deforming exophthalmos after fat removal.
Results: One hundred fifty-eight fat decompressions were performed on 81 patients over 9 years. The authors measured an average reduction in proptosis of 1.8 mm (range, 0-6.0 mm). The greatest average reduction in proptosis (3.3 mm) was produced in patients with preoperative Hertel measurements of greater than 25.0 mm. Morbidity was limited to temporary motility impairment of the inferior oblique in two patients.
Conclusion: The concept of orbital decompression can include removal of orbital fat to reduce proptosis, eliminate symptoms, and improve appearance with far less morbidity than when bone decompression is used as the primary decompressive procedure.