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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2008 Nov;105(5):1492-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.90840.2008. Epub 2008 Aug 28.

Effect of oxygen and heliox breathing on air bubbles in adipose tissue during 25-kPa altitude exposures.

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  • 1Laboratory of Hyperbaric Medicine, Department of Anesthesia, Center of Head and Orthopedics, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Blegdamsvej 9, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, DK-Denmark.


At altitude, bubbles are known to form and grow in blood and tissues causing altitude decompression sickness. Previous reports indicate that treatment of decompression sickness by means of oxygen breathing at altitude may cause unwanted bubble growth. In this report we visually followed the in vivo changes of micro air bubbles injected into adipose tissue of anesthetized rats at 101.3 kPa (sea level) after which they were decompressed from 101.3 kPa to and held at 25 kPa (10,350 m), during breathing of oxygen or a heliox(34:66) mixture (34% helium and 66% oxygen). Furthermore, bubbles were studied during oxygen breathing preceded by a 3-h period of preoxygenation to eliminate tissue nitrogen before decompression. During oxygen breathing, bubbles grew from 11 to 198 min (mean: 121 min, +/-SD 53.4) after which they remained stable or began to shrink slowly. During heliox breathing bubbles grew from 30 to 130 min (mean: 67 min, +/-SD 31.0) from which point they stabilized or shrank slowly. No bubbles disappeared during either oxygen or heliox breathing. Preoxygenation followed by continuous oxygen breathing at altitude caused most bubbles to grow from 19 to 179 min (mean: 51 min, +/-SD 47.7) after which they started shrinking or remained stable throughout the observation period. Bubble growth time was significantly longer during oxygen breathing compared with heliox breathing and preoxygenated animals. Significantly more bubbles disappeared in preoxygenated animals compared with oxygen and heliox breathing. Preoxygenation enhanced bubble disappearance compared with oxygen and heliox breathing but did not prevent bubble growth. The results indicate that oxygen breathing at 25 kPa promotes air bubble growth in adipose tissue regardless of the tissue nitrogen pressure.

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