Airway management and morbid obesity

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Morbidly obese patients present with excess fatty tissue externally on the breast, neck, thoracic wall and abdomen and internally in the mouth, pharynx and abdomen. This excess tissue tends to make access (intubation, tracheostomy) to and patency (during sedation or mask ventilation) of the upper airway and the function of the lungs (decreased residual capacity and aggravated ventilation perfusion mismatch) worse than in lean patients. Proper planning and preparation of airway management is essential, including elevation of the patient's upper body, head and neck. Preoxygenation is mandatory in morbidly obese patients and should be followed by actions to counteract atelectasis formation. The decision as to weather to use a rapid sequence induction, an awake intubation or a standard induction with hypnotics should depend on the thorough airway examination and comorbidity and should not be based solely on whether morbid obesity is present or not. It is important to ensure sufficient depth of anaesthesia before initiating manipulation of the airway because inadequate anaesthesia depth predisposes to aspiration if airway management becomes difficult. The intubating laryngeal mask airway is more efficient in the morbidly obese patients than in lean patients and serves as a rescue device for both failed ventilation and failed intubation. In the 24 h following anaesthesia, morbidly obese patients experience frequent oxygen desaturation periods that can be counteracted by continuous positive airway pressure, noninvasive ventilation and physiotherapy.

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