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February 2001 Vol. 16, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Heart and Mind: New studies on diver safety

from the February, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the adjacent article, there seems to be a few undeserved hits, in which divers seemingly followed their computers. One reason may be a medical condition called patent foramen ovale, an opening between the upper chambers of the heart, present in thirty percent of the population. In a recent study, German researchers confirmed previous studies that showed that divers with patent foramen ovale are at higher risk of developing decompression sickness. Researchers at Justus-Liebig University in Giessen found the condition can double the chances of bubbles traveling into the arteries to the brain where they can wreak damage. They recommended screening for anyone involved in high-risk deep diving.

Several studies have suggested that sport divers may suffer brain injury, but the latest study finds otherwise. A team of German researchers tested 24 career navy divers, each of whom had performed an average of 1,600 dives. They gave them a variety of tests to look at memory, motor skills and verbal abilities, since deficits in these areas suggest brain damage. The test subjects performed no worse than 24 non-diving navy personnel whom they studied for comparison. Divers did show some shortfalls in individual memory tests, but when the researchers added the total memory scores, there was no difference between the groups. Our research shows that long-term diving is safe as long as people adhere to the conditions of safe diving, such as ascending to the surface slowly, said the researchers. Neurology 2000; 55:1741-1745.

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