Respiratory management of the obese patient undergoing surgery

Luke E. Hodgson, Patrick B. Murphy, Nicholas Hart


As a reflection of the increasing global incidence of obesity, there has been a corresponding rise in the proportion of obese patients undergoing major surgery. This review reports the physiological effect of these changes in body composition on the respiratory system and discusses the clinical approach required to maximize safety and minimize the risk to the patient. The changes in respiratory system compliance and lung volumes, which can adversely affect pulmonary gas exchange, combined with upper airways obstruction and sleep-disordered breathing need to be considered carefully in the peri-operative period. Indeed, these challenges in the obese patient have led to a clear focus on the clinical management strategy and development of peri-operative pathways, including pre-operative risk assessment, patient positioning at induction and under anesthesia, modified approach to intraoperative ventilation and the peri-operative use of non-invasive ventilation (NIV) and continuous positive airways pressure.