The obese patient

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  • BMI 25-29 = Overweight
  • BMI 30-39 = Obese
  • BMI 40-49 = Morbidly obese
  • BMI >50 = Super obese

Dosing Scalars

  • Total body weight (TBW)= Actual weight
    • May result in over dosing
  • Ideal body weight (IBW)= Calc. based on height & weight
    • May result in under dosing
  • Lean body weight (LBW)= Difference between TBW and fat mass
    • Technically best weight scalar for drug administration but difficult to accurately measure
  • Adjusted body weight (ABW) = Scalar derived from aminoglycoside pharmacokinetics (PK) in obesity

Estimating Patient Weight

There are multiple formulas to estimate weight - these are the most common:

  • Estimated male TBW = 93.2 + 3.29[arm circumference (cm)] + 0.43[height (cm)]
  • Estimated female TBW = 64.6 + 2.15[arm circumference (cm)] + 0.54[height (cm)]
  • Estimated male IBW in kg = height in cm - 100
    • More accurate IBW estimate:
      • IBW (male) in kg = 50kg + 2.3kg for each in. over 5ft
  • Estimated female IBW in kg = height in cm - 105
    • More accurate IBW estimate:
      • IBW (female) in kg = 45kg + 2.3kg for each in. over 5ft
  • Estimated LBW = 1.3 x IBW
  • Estimated ABW = IBW + [C x(TBW-IBW)]
    • C = correction factor ususally 0.2 to 0.4
  • Apps/Online resources:

Medication Adjustments in Obesity

Obesity alters hepatic/renal clearance and volume of distribution (Vd) of many drugs

Medication Adjustment in Obesity[1]
Medication Dose Adjustment 
Morphine Dose by IBW
Fentanyl Dose by LBW; Alternative: Initial dose TBW, subsequent dose by IBW (risk over dose when use TBW)
Midazolam Initial dose TBW, subsequent dose by IBW
Propofol  Dose by LBW
Etomidate Dose by LBW
Succinylcholine Dose by TBW @ 1mg/kg
Rocuronium Dose by IBW
Heparin Same as non-obese patient (80U/kg followed by 18U/kg/h using TBW)
Vancomycin 30mg/kg TBW (then follow serum levels)
Aminoglycosides Dose by ABW (C= 0.4; then follow serum levels)
Beta-lactams No good data, may consider doubling dose
Carbapenems No empiric change recommended
Antifungals No empiric change recommended; use LBW when dosing weight-based agents

Airway Management

Obesity associated with difficult bag-mask ventilation (BMV) and intubation

  • Consider prolonged pre-oxygenation period and two provider BMV
  • May improve lung function through use of pre-intubation period of NIPPV
    • Obesity hypoventilation syndrome may cause chronic hypercapnia
  • Place patient in "ramp" position
    • Stack blankets behind patient's back to horizontally align external auditory meatus with sternal notch
  • Consider Airtraq laryngoscope (shortened mean intubation time & desat episodes vs Mac DL in obese patients) OR other hyperangulated video laryngoscope such as glidescope
  • Increased BMI associated with higher rate of developing ARDS
    • Methods to improve oxygenation/ventilation:
      • Use PEEP 10 to improve oxygenation if needed
      • Place in reverse Trendelenburg ("beach chair" position) to improve ventilation
      • Both may decrease CO so use cautiously in unstable patients

Lumbar Puncture

  • Obese patients have increased distance from skin to subarachnoid space
  • Upright patient positioning improves LP success
  • Estimated lumbar puncture depth (cm) = 1 + 17[weight(kg)/height(cm)]
  • Ultrasound may improve identification of landmarks
  • If failure, consider fluoroscopy-guided procedure by IR


  1. Venkat A, Ingrande J, and Lemmens HJM. Challenging & Emerging Conditions in EM. Dose adjustment of anaesthetics in the morbidly obese. British journal of anaesthesia. 2010; 105(suppl 1):i16-i23.