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Large studies reporting anesthetic outcome for morbidly obese parturients are lacking. This study compares the anesthetic and obstetric outcome in morbidly obese parturients and matched control parturients.Anesthesia records were prospectively collected for all patients delivering between September 1978 and November 1989 whose weight exceeded 136.4 kg (300 pounds) at the time of delivery. A retrospective control patient group was collected by matching the first patient weighing less than 136.4 kg, delivered in the same month by the same obstetrician, to the corresponding morbidly obese parturient. Anesthetic and obstetric outcome variables were extracted from medical records and analyzed.Sixty-two percent of 117 morbidly obese women underwent cesarean section, while only 24% of control patients delivered abdominally (P < 0.05). Forty-eight percent of all laboring morbidly obese parturients required emergency cesarean section, compared with 9% of control laboring parturients (P < 0.05). Epidural anesthesia was used successfully for labor and cesarean delivery in 74 of 79 morbidly obese women and 66 of 67 control patients. When compared with control patients, initial epidural anesthesia failure was significantly more likely in morbidly obese women, requiring epidural catheter replacement. Difficult tracheal intubation occurred in 6 of 17 morbidly obese women, compared with 0 of 8 control women (P = 0.06). Morbidly obese women had increased incidences of antepartum medical disease, prolonged cesarean section operation times, serious postoperative complications, and increased hospital stays.The high incidences of antepartum medical disease and emergency cesarean section complicate anesthetic care in the morbidly obese parturients. Epidural anesthesia is feasible; however, the high initial failure rate necessitates early catheter placement, critical block assessment and catheter replacement when indicated, and provision for alternative airway management.