More than one-third of Americans are obese or significantly overweight and at increased risk for a variety of health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke.

Obesity can make surgery more challenging. If you or a loved one are overweight or obese and planning to have surgery, you should be aware that excess weight can put you at risk for certain side effects and complications. These can result from the surgery itself, or from the anesthesia you may need during your surgery. One of the biggest concerns is that being overweight makes you more likely to have a condition called sleep apnea, which causes you to temporarily stop breathing while you sleep. This can make anesthesia riskier, especially general anesthesia, which causes you to lose consciousness.

Excess weight can put you at risk for certain side effects and complications in surgery.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risks during surgery. As medical doctors, anesthesiologists work with surgeons and other medical experts to develop the safest anesthesia plans for patients, and can work with you to take whatever precautions might be needed to make complications less likely.

How does being overweight affect surgery and anesthesia?

If you are overweight, you may also have medical conditions that are caused or made worse by the extra weight, and they can increase your risk during surgery. For example, your blood pressure may be higher than normal. You may have diabetes or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Even if you don’t have any of these conditions, being significantly overweight can lead to challenges with a number of anesthesia-related processes:

  • Locating veins to deliver anesthesia and life-saving emergency medications intravenously
  • Determining the right dose of medications
  • Ensuring you get enough oxygen and airflow, especially if you have sleep apnea
  • Adding to the time it takes to regain consciousness after surgery and your recovery time
  • Increasing the risk of breathing problems with narcotics and other pain medicines
  • Placing a breathing tube

Pair of female feet on a bathroom scale

What you can do to reduce your risk?

Improving your health before surgery can help make surgery as safe as possible, decrease your chances of complications and help you get back on your feet faster. If you are overweight or obese and your surgery isn’t urgent, consider losing some weight under a doctor’s supervision.

If you’re overweight, one of the most important things you can do to reduce the risks of anesthesia is talk to your physician or surgeon to be sure your anesthesia care is led by an anesthesiologist — before, during, and after surgery.

Your anesthesiologist will talk to you before surgery and ask detailed questions about your medical history and lifestyle. During this meeting, be sure to tell the doctor if you know or suspect you have sleep apnea. If you aren’t sure if you have sleep apnea, let the physician know if you snore, move a lot during sleep, wake up often during the night, and are frequently tired.




Female nurse looking at child patient.

Anesthesiologists work with your surgical team to evaluate, monitor, and supervise your care before, during, and after surgery—delivering anesthesia, leading the Anesthesia Care Team, and ensuring your optimal safety.