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Decompression Sickness in Miskito Indian Lobster Divers: Review of 229 Cases

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Barratt DM, Van Meter K, Decompression sickness in Miskito Indian lobster divers: review of 229 cases. Aviat Space Environ Med 2004; 75:350–353.

Background: The Miskito Indian lobster divers of Central America employ very provocative diving profiles and experience severe neurological decompression sickness (DCS) and/or arterial gas embolism (AGE). Scientific data are scarce regarding the clinical patterns of injury, response to treatment, and functional outcomes for such cases. Methods: A retrospective review of 229 cases of DCS and/or AGE was conducted at 2 hyperbaric units in Central America. Results: The following deficits were recorded on presentation: any neurological deficit: 94%; motor: 79%; sensory: 60%; urinary: 48%; reflex: 45%; and loss of consciousness: 20%. The patterns of weakness (n = 182) were as follows: paraparesis: 27%; paraplegia: 26%; lower extremity monoparesis: 14%; lower extremity monoplegia: 6%; quadriparesis: 4%; hemiparesis: 4%; hemiplegia: 3%; and quadriplegia: 2%. Treatment was delayed by a mean and median of 5 and 2 d, respectively. The majority received hyperbaric oxygen and systemic steroids. Motor function on discharge (n = 182) was as follows: normal: 30%; paraparesis: 15%; lower extremity monoparesis: 15%; paraplegia: 3%; quadriparesis: 2%; hemiparesis: 2%; and missing data/other: 33%. Gait on discharge (n = 182) was as follows: normal: 19%; abnormal: 19%; required one crutch: 10%; required two crutches: 16%; not ambulatory: 5%; and missing data: 31%. Discussion: The majority of severe injuries could be localized to the thoracolumbar spinal cord. One-fifth had bilateral cerebral dysfunction manifested by loss of consciousness. Despite long delays to treatment, divers responded to hyperbaric oxygen. At the time of discharge, almost a third had complete recovery of strength and the majority were ambulatory.

Keywords: air embolism; barotrauma; decompression sickness; diving; hyperbaric oxygenation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-04-01

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