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Pathophysiology and management of depth-related disorders 

Pathophysiology and management of depth-related disorders
Pathophysiology and management of depth-related disorders

Peter Radermacher

and Claus-Martin Muth

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date: 06 July 2022

Decompression illness comprises decompression sickness resulting from tissue inert gas super-saturation and pulmonary barotraumas due to alveolar or airway over-distension. Gas bubbles can cause vascular obstruction or tissue compression, resulting in tissue ischaemia and oedema. Interactions between the blood–gas interface and the endothelium will result in further tissue damage, and trigger an inflammatory cascade with capillary leakage and haemoconcentration. Decompression illness may mimic any other emergency pathology and any emergency coinciding with decompression is ‘due to’ decompression. Pulmonary barotrauma-induced arterial gas embolism and decompression sickness can be discriminated according to the onset of symptoms, with gas embolism predominantly developing within a few minutes after or even during decompression. Specific treatment consists of hyperbaric oxygen treatment, using several empirically-derived hyperbaric oxygen treatment schedules. Currently, there is no recognized pharmacological treatment, but fluid resuscitation is useful to counteract haemoconcentration and dehydration. Early treatment initiation is mandatory, and certain technical issues must be considered for the management of critically-ill patients in a hyperbaric chamber.

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