The Effects of Obesity on the Cardiopulmonary System: Implications for Critical Care Nursing

Kim Garrett, RN, MS, CNP; Kathy Lauer, RN, PhD; Beth-Anne Christopher, RN, MS


Prog Cardiovasc Nurs. 2004;19(4) 

In This Article


Obesity is one of the top public health problems and cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States.

Obesity rates are rising in all ages, income, and educational levels, and racial and ethnic groups. Since the incidence of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer is increased in the obese population, the associated financial burden is staggering as well. Obesity is a chronic disorder with a multifactorial etiology that involves genetic, individual, societal, and environmental factors.

In critical care, complications associated with the pathophysiologic effects of obesity have been shown to increase morbidity and mortality, length of time on the ventilator, time to wean from the ventilator, and length of stay.

Nursing care of the obese individual is a challenge. The pathophysiologic effects and complications of obesity require a multidisciplinary approach to optimize outcomes. Critical care nurses must be vigilant and astute in their assessments and be aware of adaptations that can be used to improve their skills when caring for these patients. Nurses must also be knowledgeable of the weight limitations of equipment they use and where to obtain specialized equipment designed for the obese. Finally, nurses must evaluate their own perceptions about obesity in order to avoid judgmental and non-judgmental attitudes and promote acceptance by other members of the health care team.


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