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Association between body mass index and difficult intubation with a double lumen tube: A retrospective cohort study

September 8, 2022

Study objective:
Obesity, defined by the World Health Organization as body mass index (BMI) ≥ 30.0 kg/m2, is associated with adverse outcomes and challenges during surgery. Difficulties during endotracheal intubation, occur in 3–8% of procedures and are among the principal causes of anesthetic-related morbidity and mortality. Endotracheal intubation can be challenging in obese patients due to an array of anatomic and physiologic factors. Double lumen tubes (DLTs), the most commonly used airway technique to facilitate anatomic isolation of the lungs for one lung ventilation. However, DLTs can be difficult to properly position and are also more likely to cause airway injuries and bleeding when compared to conventional single lumen tubes. We investigated the association between BMI and difficult tracheal DLT intubation.
Design: Retrospective cohort study.
Setting: Operating room.
We analyzed electronic records of adults having cardiac and thoracic surgery requiring general anes- thesia and endotracheal intubation with DLT at the Cleveland Clinic between 2008 and 2021. Measurements: BMI, preoperative airway abnormalities and difficult intubation, defined as more than one intu- bation attempt, was assessed using multivariable logistic regression.
Main results:
Among 8641 analyzed anesthetics requiring DLT, 1459 (17%) were difficult intubations. After adjusting for confounders, each 5 kg/m2 increase in BMI was associated with a marginal increase of difficult intubation, odds ratio (OR) 1.06 (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 1.002, 1.11; P = 0.040). Difficult intubation was not associated with airway abnormalities, estimated OR 0.85 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.17; P = 0.321). There was no interaction between known airway abnormalities and BMI (P = 0.894).
Difficult intubations with DLT remain common, but BMI is a weak predictor thereof. For example, an increase in BMI from 20 to 40 kg/m2 corresponds to an increase in average absolute risk for difficult intubation from 16 to 19%, which probably is not clinically meaningful.