Delayed recognition of Type II decompression sickness in a diver with chronic atrial fibrillation

Undersea Hyperb Med. 2022 Second Quarter;49(2):563-568.


Introduction: This case report describes an initially overlooked Type II decompression sickness (DCS) occurrence that was confused with a cerebral vascular accident in a patient with chronic atrial fibrillation (AF). The purpose of this case report is to reinforce the maxim that DCS needs to be suspected anytime a scuba diver experiences signs or symptoms compatible with DCS after completing a scuba dive.

Methods: A 71-year-old scuba diver with a history of AF and who was taking warfarin made four dives, all with maximum depths less than 60 fsw (20 msw) over a 10-hour interval. Shoulder pain developed before entering the water on the fourth dive and was worse after exiting from the fourth dive. Twenty minutes later the diver collapsed while standing and was unable to make a grip using his left hand. A literature review failed to locate any case reports of divers with AF presenting with strokelike symptoms only to find the cause was Type II DCS..

Findings: Initially the patient's findings were reviewed with a diving medicine team. The recommendation was for the patient to be managed for a stroke. The patient was transferred to a hospital for a computed tomography scan, but no recommendation was made for a hyperbaric oxygen recompression treatment. The scan showed no brain bleed or infarct. The attending neurologist (not diving medicine-trained) was concerned that the patient's findings were diving-related and arranged for transferring the patient to a hyperbaric medicine facility 25 hours later. With hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2) therapy the patient's symptoms remitted over several weeks.

Conclusion: The presence of symptoms attributed to a stroke immediately after a scuba dive should not deter a trial of HBO2 therapy. The delay in starting HBO2 therapy is concerning and perhaps the reason recovery was delayed and the need for repetitive HBO2 therapies.

Keywords: Brown-Sequard syndrome; atrial fibrillation; decompression sickness; delayed recompression; stroke.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / complications
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / therapy
  • Decompression Sickness* / complications
  • Decompression Sickness* / diagnosis
  • Diving* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation* / methods
  • Stroke* / therapy