Anesthesia in the obese patient: pharmacokinetic considerations

J Clin Anesth. 2005 Mar;17(2):134-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinane.2004.01.009.


The prevalence of obesity has increased 15% up to 20% and represents an important challenge for the anesthesiologist in drug-dosing management. The aim of this work is to provide an overview on physiological changes and pharmacokinetic implications of obesity for the anesthesiologist. Obesity increases both fat and lean masses; however, the percentage of fat tissue increases more than does the lean mass, affecting the apparent volume of distribution of anesthetic drugs according to their lipid solubility. Benzodiazepine loading doses should be adjusted on actual weight, and maintenance doses should be adjusted on ideal body weight. Thiopental sodium and propofol dosages are calculated on total body weight (TBW). The loading dose of lipophilic opioids is based on TBW, whereas maintenance dosages should be cautiously reduced because of the higher sensitivity of the obese patient to their depressant effects. Pharmacokinetic parameters of muscle relaxants are minimally affected by obesity, and their dosage is based on ideal rather than TBW. Inhalation anesthetics with very low lipid solubility, such as sevoflurane and desflurane, allow for quick modification of the anesthetic plan during surgery and rapid emergence at the end of surgery, hence representing very flexible anesthetic drugs for use in this patient population. Drug dosing is generally based on the volume of distribution for the loading dose and on the clearance for maintenance. In the obese patient, the volume of distribution is increased if the drug is distributed both in lean and fat tissues whereas the anesthetic drug clearance is usually normal or increased.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics
  • Anesthetics / pharmacokinetics*
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacokinetics
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Muscle Relaxants, Central / pharmacokinetics
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Propofol / pharmacokinetics
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Thiopental / pharmacokinetics


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anesthetics
  • Muscle Relaxants, Central
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Thiopental
  • Propofol