Effects of obesity on pharmacokinetics implications for drug therapy

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2000 Sep;39(3):215-31. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200039030-00004.


Obesity is a worldwide problem, with major health, social and economic implications. The adaptation of drug dosages to obese patients is a subject of concern, particularly for drugs with a narrow therapeutic index. The main factors that affect the tissue distribution of drugs are body composition, regional blood flow and the affinity of the drug for plasma proteins and/or tissue components. Obese people have larger absolute lean body masses as well as fat masses than non-obese individuals of the same age, gender and height. However, the percentage of fat per kg of total bodyweight (TBW) is markedly increased, whereas that chrome P450 isoforms are altered, but no clear overview of drug hepatic metabolism in obesity is currently available. Pharmacokinetic studies provide differing data on renal function in obese patients. This review analyses recent publications on several classes of drugs: antibacterials, anticancer drugs, psychotropic drugs, anticonvulsants, general anaesthetics, opioid analgesics, neuromuscular blockers, beta-blockers and drugs commonly used in the management of obesity. Pharmacokinetic studies in obesity show that the behaviour of molecules with weak or moderate lipophilicity (e.g. lithium and vecuronium) is generally rather predictable, as these drugs are distributed mainly in lean tissues. The dosage of these drugs should be based on the ideal bodyweight (IBW). However, some of these drugs (e.g. antibacterials and some anticancer drugs) are partly distributed in adipose tissues, and their dosage is based on IBW plus a percentage of the patient's excess bodyweight. There is no systematic relationship between the degree of lipophilicity of markedly lipophilic drugs (e.g. remifentanil and some beta-blockers) and their distribution in obese individuals. The distribution of a drug between fat and lean tissues may influence its pharmacokinetics in obese patients. Thus, the loading dose should be adjusted to the TBW or IBW, according to data from studies carried out in obese individuals. Adjustment of the maintenance dosage depends on the observed modifications in clearance. Our present knowledge of the influence of obesity on drug pharmacokinetics is limited. Drugs with a small therapeutic index should be used prudently and the dosage adjusted with the help of drug plasma concentrations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / pharmacokinetics
  • Anesthetics / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacokinetics
  • Antifungal Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism*


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Anesthetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antifungal Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Hypoglycemic Agents