Cardiovascular considerations for scuba divers


As the popularity of scuba diving increases internationally, physicians interacting with divers in the clinical setting must be familiar with the cardiovascular stresses and risks inherent to this activity. Scuba presents a formidable cardiovascular challenge by combining unique environmental conditions with the physiologic demands of underwater exercise. Haemodynamic stresses encountered at depth include increased hydrostatic pressure leading to central shifts in plasma volume coupled with cold water stimuli leading to simultaneous parasympathetic and sympathetic autonomic responses. Among older divers and those with underlying cardiovascular risk factors, these physiologic changes increase acute cardiac risks while diving. Additional scuba risks, as a consequence of physical gas laws, include arterial gas emboli and decompression sickness. These pathologies are particularly dangerous with altered sensorium in hostile dive conditions. When present, the appropriate management of patent foramen ovale (PFO) is uncertain, but closure of PFO may reduce the risk of paradoxical gas embolism in divers with a prior history of decompression sickness. Finally, similar to other Masters-level athletes, divers with underlying traditional cardiovascular risk should undergo complete cardiac risk stratification to determine ‘fitness-to-dive’. The presence of undertreated coronary artery disease, occult cardiomyopathy, channelopathy and arrhythmias must all be investigated and appropriately treated in order to ensure diver safety. A patient-centred approach facilitating shared decision-making between divers and experienced practitioners should be utilised in the management of prospective scuba divers.

  • coronary artery disease
  • arrhythmias
  • cardiac
  • risk factors

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