Doctor's Notes on The Bends (Decompression Sickness)
The bends, also known as decompression sickness (DCS) or Caisson disease is a condition that occurs in scuba divers when dissolved gases (mainly nitrogen) come out of solution in the bloodstream, forming gas bubbles in the circulation. It is caused by rapid changes in pressure during scuba diving. The bends can affect almost any area of the body or any organ, including the lungs, heart, brain, joints, and skin.
The most common signs and symptoms of the bends include:
- joint pain,
- low back pain,
- paralysis or numbness of the legs, and
- weakness or numbness in the arms.
Other associated signs and symptoms can include:
What Is the Treatment for the Bends?
The diver affected by the bends or decompression sickness will typically be given high-flow oxygen and IV fluids. Treatment involves recompression in a hyperbaric chamber. During recompression, the chamber becomes pressurized with air and oxygen based on prearranged protocols to simulate pressure depths of 30 to 60 feet. The duration of time within the chamber varies but can be up to 12 hours and sometimes longer.
Further treatments depend on how the diver responds to the initial treatment and may involve observation in the hospital.
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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.