Characteristics of patients with the "malignant obesity hypoventilation syndrome" admitted to an ICU

J Intensive Care Med. 2013 Mar-Apr;28(2):124-30. doi: 10.1177/0885066612444261. Epub 2012 May 6.


Background: The incidence of obesity in westernized nations is increasing at an alarming rate. We have noted an increasing number of patients admitted to our intensive care unit (ICU) with hypercapnic respiratory failure and multisystem organ dysfunction related to obesity. We have coined the term the malignant obesity hypoventilation syndrome (MOHS) to describe this entity.

Methods: We reviewed the hospital records of all patients who were admitted to our ICU over an 8-month period, with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40 kg/m² and a PaCO₂ greater than 45 mm Hg. We excluded patients with musculoskeletal disease, intrinsic lung disease, and those with >20 pack-year smoking history.

Results: Sixty-one patients (8% of all admissions) met the inclusion criteria for our study. The patients' mean BMI was 48.9 ± 8.6 kg/m². The patients' mean age was 59 ± 11; 47 (77%) were female and 56 (92%) were black. All patients were admitted to the ICU with hypercapnic respiratory failure. The patients had been admitted to our hospital on average 6 times over the previous 2 years; 75% had been erroneously diagnosed and treated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/asthma and 86% had been treated with diuretics for congestive cardiac failure. All patients had type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome. Three patients had a tracheotomy in place at admission and required mechanical ventilation. All of the remaining patients were treated with noninvasive bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP), with 23 patients failing BiPAP and requiring mechanical ventilation. Seven patients had a tracheotomy performed. On the basis of unexplained abnormalities of liver function tests, 39 patients (64%) were presumptively diagnosed with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Pulmonary function tests were suggestive of a restrictive pattern in all patients tested. By echocardiography 43 (71%) patients had left ventricular hypertrophy and 37 (61%) patients had features of left ventricular diastolic dysfunction. Forty-seven (77%) patients had pulmonary hypertension, which was moderate to severe (pulmonary systolic pressure >45 mm Hg) in 25 cases. All patients had an elevated C-reactive protein (9.4 ± 6.9 mg/dL), and all but 1 were vitamin D deficient (13.5 ± 8.5 ng/mL). Eleven patients (18%) died during the index hospitalization.

Conclusions: MOHS is a serious multisystem disorder with a high mortality that appears to be relatively common, frequently misdiagnosed, and inadequately treated.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Organ Failure
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome*
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Left