Failed tracheal intubation in obstetric anaesthesia: 2 yr national case–control study in the UK

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There are few national figures on the incidence of failed tracheal intubation during general anaesthesia in obstetrics. Recent small studies have quoted a rate of one in 250 general anaesthetics (GAs). The aim of this UK national study was to estimate this rate and identify factors that may be predictors.


Using the UK Obstetric Surveillance System (UKOSS) of data collection, a survey was conducted between April 2008 and March 2010. Incidence and associated risk factors were recorded in consultant-led UK delivery suites. Units reported the details of any failed intubation (index case) and the two preceding GA cases (controls). Predictors were evaluated using multivariable logistic regression, significance P<0.05 (two-sided).


We received 57 completed reports (100% response). The incidence using a unit-based estimation approach was one in 224 (95% confidence interval 179–281). Univariate analyses showed the index cases to be significantly older, heavier, with higher BMI, with Mallampati score recorded and score >1. Multivariate analyses showed that age, BMI, and a recorded Mallampati score were significant independent predictors of failed tracheal intubation. The classical laryngeal mask airway was the most commonly used rescue airway (39/57 cases). There was one emergency surgical airway but no deaths or hypoxic brain injuries. Gastric aspiration occurred in four (8%) index cases. Index cases were more likely to have maternal morbidities (P=0.026) and many babies in both groups were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit: 21 (37%) vs 29 (27%) (NS). Three babies died—all in the control group.

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