Decompression Sickness
and Arterial Gas Embolism

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Approval Status

Yes Clearance by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Yes Approval by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS)

About Clearance and Approval


Definition and Causes

Decompression sickness (DCS) is the release of gas bubbles into the blood caused by a sudden decrease in pressure around the body. Commonly called the bends, and sometimes diver’s disease or caisson disease, DCS most notably afflicts SCUBA divers. Oxygen and nitrogen bubbles form in the organs and tissues during a long or deep dive. Nitrogen bubbles enter the bloodstream when a diver ascends too rapidly. Flying in an unpressurized airplane may also cause DCS.

Decompression sickness is the most common cause of air or gas embolism. An embolism is a blockage in the bloodstream. A bubble can obstruct blood flow and damage the brain, the heart, or other vital organs and tissues, resulting in pain or death. Permanent disabilities may include vision impairment, paralysis, and respiratory problems.

Evidence Index

FDA cleared, widely reimbursed
Strong body of evidence
Repeatedly favorable results
Early or mixed results
Unfavorable or no evidence
Strong evidence against HBOT

Treatment with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in a recompression chamber is the primary treatment for decompression sickness. Increased atmospheric pressure reduces the size of nitrogen bubbles and helps them dissolve into the bloodstream. Oxygen-supersaturated blood displaces nitrogen and reaches deep into oxygen-deprived tissues.

Important: Those suffering symptoms of decompression sickness or arterial gas embolism should seek emergency treatment at the closest emergency medical facility rather than risking a longer trip to a facility with a hyperbaric chamber.

Note: In the United States, treatment for decompression sickness resulting from recreational scuba diving activity is generally not covered by health insurance. The Diver's Alert Network (see Patient Resources offers a complete range of insurance programs which cover all aspects of treatment for decompression sickness.

Read the page Decompression Sickness in the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society resource library to learn more about decompression sickness; the rationale for hyperbaric oxygen therapy; and treatment protocols, key clinical evidence, and success factors.

Patient Resources

HyperbaricLink recommends the following websites for anyone seeking authoritative information, patient advocacy, and community support for decompression sickness.

Diver's Alert Network (DAN)

Emergency Hotline: +1 (919) 684-9111
24-hour access

Diver's Alert Network (DAN) is the premier organization for scuba diving safety research and education. DAN offers instructor-led courses and online seminars in first aide and diving safety for recreational and professional scuba divers. DAN members receive the Diver's Alert Network magazine Alert Diver and other benefits including insurance.

Wikipedia: Decompression sickness

The Wikipedia entry on decompression sickness offers a wealth of information including a quick-reference chart for identifying the signs of decompression sickness and a list of factors which may increase a person's likelihood of experiencing decompression sickness.

Clinical Resources

Start with the following resources to explore current research activities and the peer-reviewed medical literature on hyperbaric oxygen therapy for decompression sickness.

 Use the search buttons below to go directly to research on hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Diver's Alert Network (DAN)

Emergency Hotline: +1 (919) 684-9111
24-hour access

Diver's Alert Network (DAN) is the premier organization for scuba diving safety research and education. The DAN website offers a weath of information and resources for clinicians needing more information about decompression sickness diagnosis and treatment.

Read the page Decompression Illness: What Is It and What Is The Treatment? on the DAN website for a comprehensive overview of decompression illness and links to additional resources on the DAN website.

Google Scholar

A specialized Google search engine, Google Scholar indexes scholarly articles, patents, and legal opinions and journals. Google Scholar may produce many search results, but entries provide easy access to full-text journal articles.

Search Google Scholar

Rubicon Research Repository

Part of the nonprofit Rubicon Foundation, the Research Repository archives and preserves research publications in the field of hyperbaric medicine, including baseline studies in hyperbaric oxygen therapy for decompression sickness. These articles are accessible through a searchable database.

Search Rubicon


News About Decompression Sickness and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hypoxia and Bends in F-22 Raptor Pilots: USAF and Congressional Inquiry Update

Wednesday, 7/18

In the wake of new incidents of pilot hypoxia and bends in the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jet, CNN senior national security producer Mike Mount has filed an excellent report this week on the status of ongoing investigations. Ch read more...

Hyperbaric Chamber Manufacturers: Meet PBUCH

Friday, 7/13

Thank you, Internet, for bringing a new containerized hyperbaric rescue system to our attention. Add PBUCH S.A., out of Poland, to HyperbaricLink's list of other manufacturers of hyperbaric chambers. PBUCH is short for Przedsiebio read more...

More news from O2.0 – the HyperbaricLink blog

Complete decompression sickness news archive from O2.0 — the HyperbaricLink blog.

Related Terms

  • Barotrauma
  • Caisson disease
  • Decompression illness
  • Diver's disease
  • Dysbarism
  • The bends


Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society, Indications Decompression Sickness. Retrieved 15 August 2011.
Decompression Illness: What Is It and What Is The Treatment? Diver's Alert Network;
Thalmann, ED; April, 2004. Retrieved 08 Nov 2010
Page Data
Updated: 30 Jul 2015 04:41 PM
Created: 13 Jun 2009 12:00 AM
By: About the authors »