Prediction of difficult tracheal intubation

G Iohom, M Ronayne, A J Cunningham
European Journal of Anaesthesiology 2003, 20 (1): 31-6

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Preoperative bedside screening tests for difficult tracheal intubation may be neither sensitive nor specific enough for clinical use. The aim was to investigate if a combination of the Mallampati classification of the oropharyngeal view with either the thyromental or sternomental distance measurement improved the predictive value.

METHODS: A total of 212 (109 male, 103 female) non-obstetric surgical patients, aged >18 yr, undergoing elective surgical procedures requiring tracheal intubation were assessed preoperatively with respect to the oropharyngeal (modified Mallampati) classification, thyromental and sternomental distances. An experienced anaesthetist, blinded to the preoperative airway assessment, performed laryngoscopy and graded the view according to Cormack and Lehane's classification.

RESULTS: Twenty tracheal intubations (9%) were difficult as defined by a Cormack and Lehane Grade 3 or 4, or the requirement for a bougie in patients with Cormack and Lehane Grade 2. Used alone, the Mallampati oropharyngeal view, and thyromental and sternomental distances were associated with poor sensitivity, specificity and positive predictive values. Combining the Mallampati Class III or IV with either a thyromental distance <6.5cm or a sternomental distance <12.5cm decreased the sensitivity (from 40 to 25 and 20%, respectively), but maintained a negative predictive value of 93%. The specificity and positive predictive values increased from 89 and 27% respectively for Mallampati alone to 100%.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings suggest that the Mallampati classification, in conjunction with measurement of the thyromental and sternomental distances, may be a useful routine screening test for preoperative prediction of difficult tracheal intubation.

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