Relation between directly detected patent foramen ovale and ischemic brain lesions in sport divers

Ann Intern Med. 2001 Jan 2;134(1):21-4. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-134-1-200101020-00009.


Background: In divers, the significance of a patent foramen ovale and its potential relation to paradoxical gas emboli remain uncertain.

Objective: To assess the prevalence of symptoms of decompression illness and ischemic brain lesions in divers with regard to the presence of a patent foramen ovale.

Design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: University hospital and three diving clubs in Switzerland.

Participants: 52 sport divers and 52 nondiving controls.

Measurements: Prevalence of self-reported decompression events, patent foramen ovale on contrast transesophageal echocardiography, and ischemic brain lesions on magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: The risk for decompression illness events was 4.5-fold greater in divers with patent foramen ovale than in divers without patent foramen ovale (risk ratio, 4.5 [95% CI, 1.2 to 18.0]; P = 0.03). Among divers, 1.23 +/- 2.0 and 0.64 +/- 1.22 ischemic brain lesions per person (mean +/- SD) were detected in those with and those without patent foramen ovale, respectively. Among controls, 0.22 +/- 0.44 and 0.12 +/- 0.63 lesion per person were detected (P < 0.001 for all groups).

Conclusions: Regardless of whether a diver has a patent foramen ovale, diving is associated with ischemic brain lesions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnosis
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cohort Studies
  • Decompression Sickness / diagnostic imaging
  • Decompression Sickness / etiology*
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Echocardiography, Transesophageal
  • Embolism, Air / etiology
  • Female
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / complications*
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Prevalence
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Selection Bias
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires