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Pulmonary decompression sickness at altitude: early symptoms and circulating gas emboliINTRODUCTION: Pulmonary altitude decompression sickness (DCS) is a rare condition. 'Chokes' which are characterized by the triad of substernal pain, cough, and dyspnea, are considered to be associated with severe accumulation of gas bubbles in the pulmonary capillaries and may rapidly develop into a life-threatening medical emergency. This study was aimed at characterizing early symptomatology and the appearance of venous gas emboli (VGE). METHODS: Symptoms of simulated-altitude DCS and VGE (with echo-imaging ultrasound) were analyzed in 468 subjects who participated in 22 high altitude hypobaric chamber research protocols from 1983 to 2001 at Brooks Air Force Base, TX. RESULTS: Of 2525 subject-exposures to simulated altitude, 1030 (41%) had symptoms of DCS. Only 29 of those included DCS-related pulmonary symptoms. Of these, only 3 subjects had all three pulmonary symptoms of chokes; 9 subjects had two of the pulmonary symptoms; and 17 subjects had only one. Of the 29 subject-exposures with pulmonary symptoms, 27 had VGE and 21 had severe VGE. The mean onset times of VGE and symptoms in the 29 subject-exposures were 42 +/- 30 min and 109 +/- 61 min, respectively. In 15 subjects, the symptoms disappeared during recompression to ground level followed by 2 h of oxygen breathing. In the remaining 14 cases, the symptoms disappeared with immediate hyperbaric oxygen treatment. CONCLUSIONS: Pulmonary altitude DCS or chokes is confirmed to be a rare condition. Our data showed that when diagnosed early, recompression to ground level pressure and/or hyperbaric oxygen treatment was 100% successful in resolving the symptoms.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Balldin, Ulf I. (Biodynamics and Protection Division Brooks Air Force Base, TX 78235-5104, United States)
Pilmanis, Andrew A.
Webb, James T.
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
October 1, 2002
Publication Information
Publication: Aviation, space, and environmental medicine
Volume: 73
Issue: 10
ISSN: 0095-6562
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Distribution Limits
Non-NASA Center
NASA Discipline Environmental Health