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What causes 'the bends'?

If you recognise any of the symptoms described after a dive then get medically assessed as soon as possible. A hyperbaric doctor will make a clinical decision following examination. Any symptoms and the dive history will be reviewed and a series of tests undertaken to show changes in your neurological and behavioural reactions.


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Untreated bends cause damage! Failure to treat promptly and appropriately may lead to permanent impairment. Even a so called "mild" symptom, such as a skin rash or joint pain, could be indicating that your body has not adequately decompressed.

More serious symptoms may well follow. Immediate recompression is essential and will remove the excess gas load and promote the healing of damaged tissue. Delayed recompression will aid the healing of damaged tissue. Where oxygen has been breathed on the surface, via a mask, symptoms may improve. If so, it is a sign that you should be assessed and medical advice sought as soon as possible. Re-entering the water with symptoms is not recommended. DCI requires immediate treatment. Symptoms should not be ignored, seek specialist medical advice immediately.

NHS treatment of decompression sickness symptoms, 24 hour advice line Classroom Medical Questions Submit a question. Other symptoms include chest pain, a burning sensation while breathing, and severe shock. Relief from decompression sickness usually can be achieved only by recompression in a hyperbaric chamber followed by gradual decompression, but this process is not always able to reverse damage to tissues.

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See Article History. Start Your Free Trial Today. Learn More in these related Britannica articles:. Decompression sickness is a disease caused by a too-rapid reduction in atmospheric pressure. Underwater divers, pilots of unpressurized aircraft, and persons who work underwater or below the surface of the Earth are subject to this disorder.


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As the atmospheric pressure lessens, dissolved gases in the…. This condition known as the bends is extremely painful and may cause death; it can be alleviated by breathing, instead of air, a mixture of helium and oxygen because the solubility of helium in blood is much lower than that of nitrogen. Decompression sickness may be defined as the illness, following a reduction of pressure, that is caused by the formation of bubbles from gases that were dissolved in the tissues while the diver was at an increased environmental pressure.

The causes are related to the inadequacy…. In decompression sickness caisson disease the obstructive elements are minute gas bubbles formed in the circulating blood from excessively rapid decompression. Decompression syndromes occur principally in divers and tunnel workers.

Most common serious diving injury, is often called The Bends

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Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. More About Decompression sickness 11 references found in Britannica articles Assorted References work of Bert In Paul Bert effect on bridge workers In Washington Augustus Roebling divers In human respiratory system: Swimming and diving tunnel construction workers In occupational disease: Atmospheric pressure In tunnels and underground excavations: Water control physiology blood gas solubilities In liquid: Solutions and solubilities embolism In embolism joint disease In joint disease: Aseptic necrosis pressure-change injuries In human disease: Pressure-change injuries treatment helium use In noble gas: General properties of the group View More.

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