Air or Gas Embolism
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

An embolism is a moving obstruction in the bloodstream. An air or gas 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.

Gas bubbles in veins travel to the heart and then to the lungs. If the bubbles are small, such as those introduced inadvertently through intraveneous fluid lines, they are usualy stopped at the lungs and rarely produce symptoms. Larger gas bubbles in veins can lodge in the heart, lungs, or brain and cause damage.

Arterial gas embolisms (AGE) can be much more damaging because they can directly obstruct the flow of blood to body tissue. Even small arterial gas obstructions can cause death by stopping the flow of blood to the heart, brain, and lungs.

Rapid decompression events, such as scuba diving accidents, can cause gas embolisms through the formation of bubbles from the release of dissolved nitrogen in the body. Nitrogen bubbles can form directly in tissue and cause damage there. Nitrogen bubbles can also form in the circulatory system from gas disolved in blood. But because arterial blood has recently passed through the lungs, where excess gas can be released, gas embolisms usually do not form in arteries from decompression events.

Air or gas embolisms can also result from mechanisms of injury that have nothing to do with decompression, such as industrial accidents involving compressed air or gas. Some medical procedures carry an increased risk of introducing gas bubbles into the bloodstream, although the occurence of such injuries is rare.

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 air or gas embolism. Increased atmospheric pressure reduces the size of bubbles and helps them dissolve into the bloodstream. Oxygen-supersaturated blood displaces nitrogen bubbles and reaches deep into oxygen-deprived tissues.

Read the page Air or Gas Embolism in the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society resource library to learn more about gas bubbles in the bloodstream; 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 further information about air or gas embolisms.

Wikipedia: Air Embolism

The Wikipedia entry for Air Embolism provides more detail on causes and treatment of air or gas embolisms.

Clinical Resources

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

 Use the search buttons below to go directly to research on hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
US National Institutes of Health keeps the official list of human clinical trials currently enrolling, in progress, and recently completed. One may reasonably question the size and legitimacy of any study not listed here.


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


HBOEvidence uses computerized tools to appraise the key randomized controlled trials (RCTs) in the hyperbaric medical literature. One may reasonably question the overall strength of HBOT evidence for any disease or condition not covered here.

Search HBOEvidence
US National Library of Medicine, US National Institutes of Health

PubMed keeps the official list of scientific papers published in reputable peer-reviewed medical journals. One may reasonably question the importance and legitimacy of any study not listed here.



News About Gas Embolisms and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society, Indications, Air or Gas Embolism. Retrieved 02 May 2015.
Page Data
Updated: 31 Jul 2015 02:54 PM
Created: 13 Jun 2009 12:00 AM
By: About the authors »