Hyperbaric oxygen treatment for decompression sickness

Undersea Hyperb Med. 2014 Mar-Apr;41(2):151-7.


Decompression sickness (DCS) is a clinical syndrome occurring usually within 24 hours of a reduction in ambient pressure. DCS occurs most commonly in divers ascending from a minimum depth of 20 feet (6 meters) of sea water, but can also occur during rapid decompression from sea level to altitude (typically > 17,000 feet / 5,200 meters). Manifestations are one or more of the following: most commonly, joint pain, hypesthesia, generalized fatigue or rash; less common but more serious, motor weakness, ataxia, pulmonary edema, shock and death. The cause of DCS is in situ bubble formation in tissues, causing mechanical disruption of tissue, occlusion of blood flow, platelet activation, endothelial dysfunction and capillary leakage. High inspired concentration of oxygen (O2) is recommended as first aid for all cases and can be definitive treatment for most altitude DCS. For most other cases, hyperbaric oxygen is recommended,most commonly 100% O2 breathing at 2.82 atmospheres absolute (U.S.Navy Treatment Table 6 or equivalent). Additional treatments (generally no more than one to two) are used for residual manifestations until clinical stability; some severe cases may require more treatments. Isotonic, glucose-free fluids are recommended for prevention and treatment of hypovolemia. An evidence-based review of adjunctive therapies is presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decompression Sickness / etiology
  • Decompression Sickness / therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation / methods*
  • Patient Selection