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J Anesth. 2008;22(1):38-48. doi: 10.1007/s00540-007-0577-z. Epub 2008 Feb 27.

Management of the difficult and failed airway in obstetric anesthesia.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Difficulty with airway management in obstetric patients occurs infrequently and failure to secure an airway is rare. A failed airway may result in severe physical and emotional morbidity and possibly death to the mother and baby. Additionally, the family, along with the medical and nursing staff, may face emotional and financial trauma. With the increase in the number of cesarean sections performed under regional anesthesia, the experience and training in performing endotracheal intubations in obstetric anesthesia has decreased. This article reviews the management of the difficult and failed airway in obstetric anesthesia. Underpinning this important topic is the difference between the nonpregnant and pregnant state. Obstetric anatomy and physiology, endotracheal intubation in the obstetric patient, and modifications to the difficult airway algorithms required for obstetric patients will be discussed. We emphasize that decisions regarding airway management must consider the urgency of delivery of the baby. Finally, the need for specific equipment in the obstetric difficult and failed airway is discussed. Worldwide maternal mortality reflects the health of a nation. However, one could also claim that, particularly in Western countries, maternal mortality may reflect the health of the specialty of anesthesia.

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