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Diving Hyperb Med. 2019 Jun 30;49(2):127-136. doi: 10.28920/dhm49.2.127-136.

Systematic review on the effects of medication under hyperbaric conditions: consequences for the diver.

Author information

Institute of Psychology, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Defense Healthcare Organization, Ministry of Defense, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Surgery, Alrijne Hospital, Leiderdorp, The Netherlands.
Corresponding author: Thijs TCF van Dongen, Department of Surgery, Alrijne Hospital, PO Box 4220, 2350 CC Leiderdorp, Simon Smitweg 1, 2353 GA Leiderdorp, The Netherlands,
Diving Medical Center, Royal Netherlands Navy, Den Helder, The Netherlands.
Central Military Hospital, Ministry of Defense, Utrecht.
Department of Anesthesiology, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Division of Surgery, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden.



Physiological changes are induced by immersion, swimming and using diving equipment. Divers must be fit to dive. Using medication may impact the capacity to adapt to hyperbaric conditions. The aim of this systematic review is to assess the interaction of diving/hyperbaric conditions and medication and to provide basic heuristics to support decision making regarding fitness to dive in medicated divers.


This was a systematic review of human and animal studies of medications in the hyperbaric environment. Studies were subdivided into those describing a medication/hyperbaric environment interaction and those concerned with prevention of diving disorders. Studies without a relation to diving with compressed air, and those concerning oxygen toxicity, hyperbaric oxygen therapy or the treatment of decompression sickness were excluded.


Forty-four studies matched the inclusion criteria. Animal studies revealed that diazepam and valproate gave limited protection against the onset of the high-pressure neurological syndrome. Lithium had a protective effect against nitrogen-narcosis and losartan reduced cardiac changes in repetitive diving. Human studies showed no beneficial or dangerous pressure-related interactions. In prevention of diving disorders, pseudoephedrine reduced otic barotrauma, vitamins C and E reduced endothelial dysfunction after bounce diving and hepatic oxidative stress in saturation diving.


Animal studies revealed that psycho-pharmaceuticals can limit the onset of neurologic symptoms and cardiovascular protective drugs might add a potential protective effect against decompression sickness. No evidence of significant risks due to changes in pharmacologic mechanisms were revealed and most medication is not a contraindication to diving. For improving decision making in prescribing medicine for recreational and occupational divers and to enhance safety by increasing our understanding of pharmacology in hyperbaric conditions, future research should focus on controlled human studies.


Decompression sickness; Diving; Drugs; Fitness to dive; Pharmacokinetics; Review article

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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