The safety of percutaneous tracheostomy in 73 obese patients (body mass index > or = 27.5 kg.m(-2)) in a cohort of 474 adults was studied. Four percutaneous techniques were employed (percutaneous dilational tracheostomy, n = 48; Ciaglia Blue Rhino, n = 157; guide wire dilating forceps, n = 62, translaryngeal tracheostomy, n = 207). The overall complication rate was 43.8% (n = 32) in the obese group compared to 18.2% (n = 73) in the control group (p < 0.001). Seven (9.6%) obese patients suffered life-threatening complications compared to three non-obese patients (0.7%, p < 0.001). Obese patients had a 2.7-fold increased risk for peri-operative complications, and a 4.9-fold increased risk for serious complications. The data suggest that percutaneous tracheostomy in obese patients is associated with a considerably increased risk for peri-operative complications, especially for serious adverse events.