Variability in circulating gas emboli after a same scuba diving exposure

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2018 Jun;118(6):1255-1264. doi: 10.1007/s00421-018-3854-7. Epub 2018 Apr 3.


Purpose: A reduction in ambient pressure or decompression from scuba diving can result in ultrasound-detectable venous gas emboli (VGE). These environmental exposures carry a risk of decompression sickness (DCS) which is mitigated by adherence to decompression schedules; however, bubbles are routinely observed for dives well within these limits and significant inter-personal variability in DCS risk exists. Here, we assess the variability and evolution of VGE for 2 h post-dive using echocardiography, following a standardized pool dive in calm warm conditions.

Methods: 14 divers performed either one or two (with a 24 h interval) standardized scuba dives to 33 mfw (400 kPa) for 20 min of immersion time at NEMO 33 in Brussels, Belgium. Measurements were performed at 21, 56, 91 and 126 min post-dive: bubbles were counted for all 68 echocardiography recordings and the average over ten consecutive cardiac cycles taken as the bubble score.

Results: Significant inter-personal variability was demonstrated despite all divers following the same protocol in controlled pool conditions: in the detection or not of VGE, in the peak VGE score, as well as time to VGE peak. In addition, intra-personal differences in 2/3 of the consecutive day dives were seen (lower VGE counts or faster clearance).

Conclusions: Since VGE evolution post-dive varies between people, more work is clearly needed to isolate contributing factors. In this respect, going toward a more continuous evaluation, or developing new means to detect decompression stress markers, may offer the ability to better assess dynamic correlations to other physiological parameters.

Keywords: Decompression sickness; Echocardiography; Microbubble; Ultrasound; Venous gas emboli.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Variation, Individual*
  • Decompression Sickness / diagnostic imaging
  • Decompression Sickness / etiology
  • Decompression Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Diving / physiology
  • Echocardiography
  • Embolism, Air / diagnostic imaging
  • Embolism, Air / etiology
  • Embolism, Air / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Veins / diagnostic imaging