Remifentanil pharmacokinetics in obese versus lean patients

Anesthesiology. 1998 Sep;89(3):562-73. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199809000-00004.


Background: Remifentanil is a short-acting opioid whose pharmacokinetics have been characterized in detail. However, the impact of obesity on remifentanil pharmacokinetics has not been specifically examined. The goal of this study was to investigate the influence of body weight on remifentanil pharmacokinetics.

Methods: Twelve obese and 12 matched lean subjects undergoing elective surgery received a 1-min remifentanil infusion after induction of anesthesia. Arterial blood samples were collected for determination of remifentanil blood concentrations. Each subject's pharmacokinetic parameters were estimated by fitting a two-compartment model to the concentration versus time curves. Nonlinear mixed-effects population models examining the influence of lean body mass (LBM) and total body weight (TBW) were also constructed. Clinical simulations using the final population model were performed.

Results: The obese patient cohort reached substantially higher remifentanil concentrations. The individual pharmacokinetic parameters of a two-compartment model were not significantly different between the obese versus lean cohorts (unless normalized to TBW). The final population model scaled central clearance and the central and peripheral distribution volumes to LBM. The simulations illustrated that remifentanil pharmacokinetics are not grossly different in obese versus lean subjects and that TBW based dosing in obese patients can result in excessively high remifentanil concentrations.

Conclusions: The essential findings of the study are that remifentanil's pharmacokinetics are not appreciably different in obese versus lean subjects and that remifentanil pharmacokinetic parameters are therefore more closely related to LBM than to TBW. Clinically this means that remifentanil dosing regimens should be based on ideal body weight (or LBM) and not TBW.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacokinetics*
  • Body Weight*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Piperidines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Remifentanil


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Piperidines
  • Remifentanil