We examined the accuracy of preoperative assessment in predicting postoperative pulmonary risk in a prospective cohort of 272 consecutive patients referred for evaluation before nonthoracic surgery. Outcomes were assessed by an independent investigator who was blinded to the preoperative data. There were 22 (8%) postoperative pulmonary complications. Statistically significant predictors of pulmonary complications (all p < or = 0.005) were as follows: hypercapnea of 45 mm Hg or more (odds ratio, 61.0), a FVC of less than 1.5 L/minute (odds ratio, 11.1), a maximal laryngeal height of 4 cm or less (odds ratio, 6.9), a forced expiratory time of 9 seconds or more (odds ratio, 5.7), smoking of 40 pack-years or more (odds ratio, 5.7), and a body mass index of 30 or more (odds ratio, 4.1). Multiple regression analyses revealed three preoperative clinical factors that are independently associated with pulmonary complications: an age of 65 years or more (odds ratio, 1.8; p = 0.02), smoking of 40 pack-years or more (odds ratio, 1.9; p = 0.02), and maximum laryngeal height of 4 cm or less (odds ratio, 2.0; p = 0.007). Thus, preoperative factors can identify those patients referred to pulmonologists or internists who are at increased risk for pulmonary complications after nonthoracic surgery.