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Altitude Decompression Sickness Between 6858 and 9144 m Following a 1-h Prebreathe

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Webb JT, Pilmanis AA. Altitude decompression sickness between 6858 and 9144 m following a 1-h prebreathe. Aviat Space Environ Med 2005; 76:34–38.

Introduction: The zero prebreathe altitude threshold for developing 5% decompression sickness (DCS) symptoms in men has been reported to be 6248 m (20,500 ft). However, such an altitude threshold when 1 h of oxygen prebreathe is used has not been well documented and was the primary purpose of this study. Methods: The 51 male human subjects were exposed to 9144 m (30,000 ft), 8382 m (27,500 ft), 7620 m (25,000 ft), and/or 6858 m (22,500 ft) for 8 h. They were monitored for symptoms of DCS and venous gas emboli (VGE). Results: DCS symptom incidence after 4 h of exposure decreased with exposure altitude from 87% at 9144 m to 26% at 6858 m. VGE were lower during the 4-h 6858-m exposures (32%) than at the higher altitudes (76–85%). The symptom incidences during the first 4 h of exposure were lower at 6858 m and 7620 m following a 1-h prebreathe as compared with analogous zero-prebreathe exposures. There were no differences between incidences of VGE or DCS at any of the four altitudes after 8 vs. 4 h of exposure. Conclusion: The altitude threshold for 5% DCS symptoms is below 6858 m after 1 h of prebreathe. However, during 6858-m and 7620-m exposures, a 1-h prebreathe is highly beneficial in reducing DCS incidence and delaying the onset of DCS, keeping the incidence to less than 6% during the first 90 min of exposure. Use of 4-h vs. 8-h exposures does not appear to underestimate DCS risk at or above 7620 m.
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Keywords: DCS; exercise; hypobaric; prebreathe; preoxygenation; venous gas emboli

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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