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The Bends
(Decompression Syndromes)

The Bends Overview

The bends, also known as decompression sickness (DCS) or Caisson disease occurs in scuba divers or high altitude or aerospace events when dissolved gases (mainly nitrogen) come out of solution in bubbles and can affect just about any body area including joints, lung, heart, skin and brain.

Decompression sickness (DCS) is caused by the formation of bubbles of gas that occur with changes in pressure during scuba diving. It is also experienced in commercial divers who breathe heliox (a special mixture of oxygen and helium), and astronauts and aviators that experience rapid changes in pressure from sea level. Scuba diving will be the focus of this article as it is the most common activity that may result in the bends.

Scuba diving is a sport and hobby that continues to increase in popularity each year. There are several organizations that certify individuals to become recreations divers, two of which are PADI (The Professional Association of Diving Instructors) and NAUI (The National Association of Underwater Instructors).

Data collected by Divers Alert Network (DAN) and presented in 2010 revealed 41 cases of DCS out of 137,451 dive profiles collected. It is important to know that even divers that follow decompression schedules and tables may still experience DCS.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/26/2013
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Decompression Sickness »

Although decompression sickness (DCS), a complex resulting from changed barometric pressure, includes high-altitude–related and aerospace-related events, this article focuses on decompression associated with the sudden decrease in pressures during underwater ascent, usually occurring during free or assisted dives.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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