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July 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Deep Vein Thrombosis and Decompression Sickness

from the July, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Risks to us traveling divers don't end with the last dive. To avoid a case of DCS when flying home from a dive trip, we're careful to wait at least 24 hours after our last dive before boarding a plane. And after we are on the plane for the long ride home, it's deep vein thrombosis we need to worry about. In fact, over the years, Undercurrent has reported two cases of divers dying from DVT on a long flight home (it's thought to be prevented by periodically rising from your seat and walking the aisle).

It is commonly believed that all pressurized flights maintain a cabin pressure equivalent to somewhere between 7000 and 10,000 feet, although often an aircraft might take some time after take-off to achieve that pressurization, depending on the rate of climb.

P. Buzzacott from the University of Western Australia and A. Mollerlokken from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have begun a project to determine if cabin decompression might favor the formation of vascular bubbles -- deep vein thrombosis -- in commercial air travelers.

Cabin pressure was monitored and analyzed in 30 commercial flights. The greatest pressure differentials between model tissues and cabin were estimated for half-time compartments ranging from 20 to 120 minutes. The time to decompress ranged from 11 to 47 minutes. It was found that the drop in cabin pressure was commensurate with that found to cause bubbles in man. The median overall rate of decompression found during this study was five times that prescribed for U.S. Navy saturation divers, meaning that it was more hazardous to take a lengthy commercial flight. So can aviation-related deep vein thrombosis be a form of decompression sickness? Research continues. (

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