Obesity Raises Complication Risks with General Anesthesia

20 Apr

Obesity comes with many health risks, but what makes matters worse is that if you end up in the hospital for one of those health problems, being heavy can lead to complications with the anesthesia used in surgical procedures.

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that obese patients have double the risk of non-obese patients of developing serious airway complications while they are under a general anesthetic. People who are severely obese were actually four times more likely to develop the same complications.

The researchers analyzed all major airway complications that occurred among patients in the UK who received general anesthesia between 2008 and 2009. The study focused on situations that led to severe consequences, such as the need for a breathing tube to be inserted in the front of the neck, being admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), brain damage or death.

The researchers also found that, while obese patients are more likely to die if they experienced airway complications in the ICU, when a breathing monitor called a capnograph is used, the chances of brain damage and death are greatly reduce

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

"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," said Woodall.

Most of the major health complications that come with being obese present major risks for complications while under anesthesia. Heart risks, blood clots, and blood pressure are among the issues associated with obesity and surgery.

But there are some overlooked problems that anesthesiologists and other healthcare professionals face with obese patients. For instance, it can be more difficult to locate veins in obese patients. Also, a medical professional has to be able to figure out that if an obese patient is experiencing chest pain, whether that is just tightness due to being obese or a risky cardiac problem.

Since obesity is one of the risk factors that can’t be hidden, forgotten, or accidentally not included in one’s medical records, there is no reason that the patient shouldn’t have the opportunity to discuss their anesthesia options with their doctor before a medical procedure is performed.