Drug dosing in the critically ill obese patient: a focus on medications for hemodynamic support and prophylaxis

Crit Care. 2021 Feb 23;25(1):77. doi: 10.1186/s13054-021-03495-8.


Medications used for supportive care or prophylaxis constitute a significant portion of drug utilization in the intensive care unit. Evidence-based guidelines are available for many aspects of supportive care but drug doses listed are typically for patients with normal body habitus and not morbid obesity. Failure to account for the pharmacokinetic changes that occur with obesity can lead to an incorrect dose and treatment failure or toxicity. This paper is intended to help clinicians design initial dosing regimens in critically ill obese patients for medications commonly used for hemodynamic support or prophylaxis. A detailed literature search of medications used for supportive care or prophylaxis listed in practice guidelines was conducted with an emphasis on obesity, pharmacokinetics and dosing. Relevant manuscripts were reviewed and strategies for dosing are provided. For medications used for hemodynamic support, a similar strategy can be used as in non-obese patients. Similarly, medications for stress ulcer prophylaxis do not need to be adjusted. Anticoagulants for venous thromboembolism prophylaxis, on the other hand, require an individualized approach where higher doses are necessary.

Keywords: Critical illness; Drug dosing; Obesity; Pharmacokinetics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Body Weight / drug effects*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Critical Illness / epidemiology
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug*
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis / methods*
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis / standards
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / administration & dosage
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents / therapeutic use


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Vasoconstrictor Agents