Breath-Hold Diving-Related Decompression Sickness with Brain Involvement: From Neuroimaging to Pathophysiology

Tomography. 2022 Apr 19;8(3):1172-1183. doi: 10.3390/tomography8030096.


Central nervous system involvement related to decompression sickness (DCS) is a very rare complication of breath-hold diving. So far, it has been postulated that repeated dives with short surface intervals represent a key factor in the development of breath-holding-related DCS. We report the case of a breath-hold diver who, after repeated immersion, developed DCS with brain involvement. After treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, there was a clinical improvement in the symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging of the brain showed hyperintense lesions in long-time repetition sequences (FLAIR, T2WI) in the left frontal and right temporal lobes. Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) sequences and the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) map were characteristic of vasogenic edema, allowing us to exclude the ischemic nature of the process. These findings, together with the acute clinical presentation, the resolution of lesions in evolutionary radiological controls and the possible involvement of blood-brain barrier/endothelial dysfunction in DCS, could suggest a new form of posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES)-like presentation of DCS. This would represent a novel mechanism to explain the pathophysiology of this entity. We conducted a literature review, analyzing the pathophysiological and neuroimaging characteristics of DCS in breath-hold diving based on a case of this rare disease.

Keywords: PRES; apparent diffusion coefficient maps; breath-hold diving; decompression sickness; diffusion-weighted images; magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Decompression Sickness* / complications
  • Decompression Sickness* / diagnostic imaging
  • Diving* / adverse effects
  • Diving* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / adverse effects
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome* / complications
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Posterior Leukoencephalopathy Syndrome* / pathology