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Management of the difficult airway 

Management of the difficult airway
Management of the difficult airway

Mary C. Mushambi

and Rajesh Pandey

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date: 03 December 2020

Failed or difficult intubation is still a major cause of maternal morbidity and mortality. The management of the airway in the pregnant patient requires careful consideration of anatomical and physiological changes, training issues, and situational factors. Despite significant improvements in monitoring and airway equipment, and a reduction in anaesthetic-related maternal mortality, the incidence of failed intubation in the pregnant woman in many units has remained between 1/250 and 1/300. This may result from many factors such as the reduction of the number of caesarean deliveries performed under general anaesthesia which has resulted in limited opportunities to teach airway skills in obstetrics, the increased incidence of obesity, and the rise in maternal age and associated co-morbidities. Improved training and careful planning and performance of a general anaesthetic (i.e. reducing the risk of aspiration; optimum pre-oxygenation, patient positioning, and application of cricoid pressure; and availability of appropriate airway equipment) have the potential to reduce airway-related morbidity and mortality in the pregnant woman. Simple bedside tests such as Mallampati scoring, thyromental distance, neck movement, and ability to protrude the mandible may help to predict a potential difficult airway, particularly when used in combination. Management of a predicted difficult airway requires early referral to the anaesthetists, formulation of an airway management strategy, and involvement of the multidisciplinary team in decision-making. Fibreoptic equipment and skills should be readily available when required. Management of the unpredicted difficult airway should make maintenance of maternal and fetal oxygenation the primary goal. Decision-making during a failed intubation on whether to proceed or wake the patient should involve the obstetrician and ideally be planned in advance. The periods during extubation and recovery are high risk and require preparation and planning in advance.

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