Introduction: There is little objective comparative information about the postoperative complications of tracheostomy in morbidly obese patients. The aim of this study was to determine the incidence and severity of complications associated with open tracheostomy in critically ill morbidly obese patients during hospitalization.
Methods: During a six year period, all consecutive morbidly obese patients (body mass index [BMI] of greater than or equal to 40 kg/m2) who underwent an elective open tracheostomy were compared to a control group (BMI of less than 40 kg/m2) of the same institution. Variables examined included age, gender, BMI, Charlson index, and reasons for tracheostomy. All postoperative tracheotomy-related complications that occurred during hospitalization, including death, were recorded.
Results: A tracheostomy was performed in 89 morbidly obese patients out of 427 critically ill patients. A total of 27 complications were recorded in 22 morbidly obese patients (25%) compared to 65 complications in 49 patients (14%) of the control group (p = 0.03). The majority of these complications were minor in origin. Overall, nine serious events were responsible for two deaths in the morbidly obese compared to seven cases and two deaths in the control group (p = 0.001). Life-threatening complications were attributed to tube obstruction and malpositioning of the tracheostomy after being dislodged. In multivariate analysis, morbid obesity (odds ratio 4.4, 95% confidence interval 2.1 to 11.7) was independently associated with increased risk of tracheostomy-related complications.
Conclusion: In the present series, morbid obesity is associated with increased frequency and life-threatening complications from conventional tracheostomy. Special techniques and operative policies must be applied to overcome loss of airway control.