Obesity Could Raise Risks of General Anesthesia

Serious airway complications 2 to 4 times more likely among heaviest patients, study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- Obese patients are twice as likely as non-obese patients to develop serious airway complications while under a general anesthetic, a new study has found.

And severely obese patients were four times more likely to develop such problems, according to the report.

In the study, researchers analyzed all major airway complications that occurred among patients who received general anesthesia in the United Kingdom in 2008-2009. The focus of the study was on events that led to severe consequences, such as the need for a breathing tube to be inserted in the front of the neck, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, brain damage or death.

The study, which was published online March 29 in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, is slated for presentation Wednesday at a meeting of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA).

"The report is important for patients and anesthetists alike," study co-author Dr. Nick Woodall, a consultant anesthetist at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in the United Kingdom, said in an RCoA news release.

"The information will enable obese patients to be better informed about the risks of anesthesia and to give informed consent. We hope our findings will encourage anesthetists to recognize these risks and choose anesthetic techniques with a lower risk, such as regional anesthesia, where possible, and also prepare for airway difficulties when anesthetizing obese patients," Woodall said.

The researchers also examined major airway complications in ICU patients and found that obese patients were more likely to die if they experienced airway complications while in the ICU, but use of a breathing monitor called a capnograph can greatly reduce brain damage and deaths caused by airway problems. The absence of a capnograph contributed to 74 percent of these types of events in ICUs during the study.

More information

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has more about obesity and anesthesia.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: Royal College of Anaesthetists, news release, March 29, 2011

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