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Eur Heart J. 2004 Jun;25(12):1014-20.

Risk of decompression illness among 230 divers in relation to the presence and size of patent foramen ovale.

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Department of Cardiology, University Hospital, CH-3010 Bern, Switzerland.



The risk of developing decompression illness (DCI) in divers with a patent foramen ovale (PFO) has not been directly determined so far; neither has it been assessed in relation to the PFO's size.


In 230 scuba divers (age 39+/-8 years), contrast trans-oesophageal echocardiography (TEE) was performed for the detection and size grading (0-3) of PFO. Prior to TEE, the study individuals answered a detailed questionnaire about their health status and about their diving habits and accidents. For inclusion into the study, > or =200 dives and strict adherence to decompression tables were required.


Sixty-three divers (27%) had a PFO. Overall, the absolute risk of suffering a DCI event was 2.5 per 10(4) dives. There were 18 divers (29%) with, and 10 divers (6%) without, PFO who had experienced > or =1 major DCI events P=0.016. In the group with PFO, the incidence per 10(4) dives of a major DCI, a DCI lasting longer than 24 h and of being treated in a decompression chamber amounted to 5.1 (median 0, interquartile range [IQR] 0-10.0), 1.9 (median 0, IQR 0-4.0) and 3.6 (median 0, IQR 0-9.8), respectively and was 4.8-12.9-fold higher than in the group without PFO (P<0.001). The risk of suffering a major DCI, of a DCI lasting longer than 24 h and of being treated by recompression increased with rising PFO size.


The presence of a PFO is related to a low absolute risk of suffering five major DCI events per 10(4) dives, the odds of which is five times as high as in divers without PFO. The risk of suffering a major DCI parallels PFO size.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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