Patent foramen ovale and diving

Cardiol Clin. 2005 Feb;23(1):97-104. doi: 10.1016/j.ccl.2004.10.005.


Patency of the foramen ovale is a risk factor for DCS in SCUBA divers, even if they adhere to the currently accepted and used decompression tables. The primary cause of DCS, however, is the nitrogen bubble, not the PFO. There are a number of techniques any diver can use to minimize the occurrence of nitrogen bubbles after a dive. The authors current practice is to inform civilian sports divers of the increased risk and to advise them to adopt conservative dive profiles. This can be achieved by selecting a more conservative dive computer, performing only dives that do not require obligatory decompression stops, or using oxygen-enriched breathing gas mixtures("nitrox") while still diving on "air profiles" [56].Dive-safety organizations are currently under-taking studies aimed at proposing changes in the decompression algorithms to produce low-bubble dive tables [12]. In the meantime, PFO remains a reason for caution. Whether all divers should be screened for PFOis an ongoing discussion [50] in view of methodologic and practical issues outlined in this article. Any definitive recommendations can be made only after a careful, prospective evaluation of the real relative risk for DCS and long-term cerebral damage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decompression Sickness / epidemiology*
  • Decompression Sickness / physiopathology
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Embolism / etiology
  • Embolism / physiopathology
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / epidemiology*
  • Heart Septal Defects, Atrial / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors