Vascular dysfunction following breath-hold diving

Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2020 Feb;98(2):124-130. doi: 10.1139/cjpp-2019-0341.


The pathogenesis of predominantly neurological decompression sickness (DCS) is multifactorial. In SCUBA diving, besides gas bubbles, DCS has been linked to microparticle release, impaired endothelial function, and platelet activation. This study focused on vascular damage and its potential role in the genesis of DCS in breath-hold diving. Eleven breath-hold divers participated in a field study comprising eight deep breath-hold dives with short surface periods and repetitive breath-hold dives lasting for 6 h. Endothelium-dependent vasodilation of the brachial artery, via flow-mediated dilation (FMD), and the number of microparticles (MPs) were assessed before and after each protocol. All measures were analyzed by two-way within-subject ANOVA (2 × 2 ANOVA; factors: time and protocol). Absolute FMD was reduced following both diving protocols (p < 0.001), with no interaction (p = 0.288) or main effect of protocol (p = 0.151). There was a significant difference in the total number of circulating MPs between protocols (p = 0.007), where both increased post-dive (p = 0.012). The number of CD31+/CD41- and CD66b+ MP subtypes, although different between protocols (p < 0.001), also increased by 41.0% ± 56.6% (p = 0.050) and 60.0% ± 53.2% (p = 0.045) following deep and repetitive breath-hold dives, respectively. Both deep and repetitive breath-hold diving lead to endothelial dysfunction that may play an important role in the genesis of neurological DCS.

Keywords: apnea; apnée; embolies gazeuses veineuses; endothelial function; flow-mediated dilation; fonction endothéliale; microparticles; microparticules; plongée en apnée répétitive; repetitive breath-hold dive; vasodilatation médiée par le flux; venous gas emboli.

MeSH terms

  • Blood Vessels / physiopathology*
  • Breath Holding*
  • Cell-Derived Microparticles / metabolism
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Time Factors
  • Vasodilation