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September 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Divers Most At Risk for Heart Attacks

from the September, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

American divers don't get old. We just get bigger medical bills and cosmetic surgery. But elsewhere in the world, there is concern that older, overweight divers should shed those extra pounds they've put on since they were in their sporting prime -- to avoid underwater heart attacks.

Dr. Peter Buzzacott of the University of Western Australia published a study in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, suggesting that those divers who learned to dive a long time ago and are now old, overweight, and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are at increased risk of dying. It is estimated that 3.3 million Americans and 2.8 million Europeans will scuba dive during 2018, and while deaths from diving overall are rare, the percentage that can be attributed to cardiac problems is rising.

From 1989 to 2015, the proportion of dive fatalities involving those in the age range 50-59 increased steadily from 15 percent to 35 percent, while fatalities involving those older soared from 5 percent to 20 percent. Cardiac events are now second only to drowning as the leading cause of death.

Buzzacott advised all divers to have routine fitness assessments with their doctor, and tackle risk factors that otherwise could lead to a fatal cardiac event while diving. He notes, "Never before in history have so many people been exposing themselves to these extraordinary environmental stresses, and, for the first time ever, we now have a large number of people who have spent their entire lives regularly scuba diving."

Ray Woolley, the world's oldest diver, is now 95 and still going, so make sure you stay in equally good shape and aim to grab his record.

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