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EEG Patterns Associated with Nitrogen Narcosis (Breathing Air at 9 ATA)

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Pastena L, Faralli F, Mainardi G, Gagliardi R. EEG patterns associated with nitrogen narcosis (breathing air at 9 ATA). Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76:1031–1036.

Introduction: The narcotic effect of nitrogen impairs diver performance and limits dive profiles, especially for deep dives using compressed air. It would be helpful to establish measurable correlates of nitrogen narcosis. Methods: The authors observed the electroencephalogram (EEG) of 10 subjects, ages 22–27 yr, who breathed air during a 3-min compression to a simulated depth of 80 msw (9 ATA). The EEG from a 19-electrode cap was recorded for 20 min while the subject reclined on a cot with eyes closed, first at 1 ATA before the dive and again at 9 ATA. Signals were analyzed using Fast Fourier Transform and brain mapping for frequency domains 0–4 Hz, 4–7 Hz, 7–12 Hz, and 12–15 Hz. Student’s paired t-test and correlation tests were used to compare results for the two conditions. Results: Two EEG patterns were observed. The first was an increase in delta and theta activity in all cortical regions that appeared in the first 2 min at depth and was related to exposure time. The second was an increase in delta and theta activity and shifting of alpha activity to the frontal regions at minute 6 of breathing air at 9 ATA and was related to the narcotic effects of nitrogen. Discussion: If confirmed by studies with larger case series, this EEG pattern could be used to identify nitrogen narcosis for various gas mixtures and prevent the dangerous impact of nitrogen on diver performance.

Keywords: brain activity; brain mapping; gas narcosis

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2005

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