Dysbaric cerebral air embolism in Hawaii

Ann Emerg Med. 1987 May;16(5):535-41. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(87)80679-0.


Cerebral air embolism is a major cause of death and disability among sport scuba divers. To better define the epidemiologic and clinical manifestations of this infrequently encountered disorder, the records of all recompression treatments in Hawaii from 1976 through 1979 were reviewed. Forty-two cases of dysbaric air embolism (DAE) were identified on the basis of clinical criteria, accounting for 18% of the patients undergoing recompression treatment for diving-related disorders during this four-year period. In 22 patients (52%), DAE was part of a dysbarism syndrome that involved one or more forms of decompression sickness and/or in which DAE could not be differentiated from neurologic decompression sickness. The presenting signs and symptoms varied, with asymmetric multiplegia being the most common finding. Two patients died, giving a case fatality rate of 5% for those who survived until reaching the recompression chamber. Overall, 78% of the cases manifested either complete (61%) or substantial (17%) recovery with recompression and adjunctive medical measures. Traditional concepts of dysbaric cerebral air embolism are not adequate to explain the spectrum of clinical manifestations encountered in this condition.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Diseases / epidemiology
  • Brain Diseases / etiology*
  • Brain Diseases / mortality
  • Brain Diseases / therapy
  • Decompression
  • Diving / adverse effects*
  • Embolism, Air / epidemiology*
  • Embolism, Air / mortality
  • Embolism, Air / therapy
  • Female
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Hawaii
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paralysis / etiology