Comparison of the size of persistent foramen ovale and atrial septal defects in divers with shunt-related decompression illness and in the general population (2015)

Type of publication:
Journal article

Wilmshurst P.T., Morrison W.L., Walsh K.P., Pearson M.J., Nightingale S.

Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine, June 2015, vol./is. 45/2(89-93)

Introduction: Decompression illness (DCI) is associated with a right-to-left shunt, such as persistent foramen ovale (PFO), atrial septal defect (ASD) and pulmonary arteriovenous malformations. About one-quarter of the population have a PFO, but considerably less than one-quarter of divers suffer DCI. Our aim was to determine whether shunt-related DCI occurs mainly or entirely in divers with the largest diameter atrial defects. Methods: Case control comparison of diameters of atrial defects (PFO and ASD) in 200 consecutive divers who had transcatheter closure of an atrial defect following shunt-related DCI and in an historic group of 263 individuals in whom PFO diameter was measured at post-mortem examination. Results: In the divers who had experienced DCI, the median atrial defect diameter was 10 mm and the mean (standard deviation) was 9.9 (3.6) mm. Among those in the general population who had a PFO, the median diameter was 5 mm and mean was 4.9 (2.6) mm. The difference between the two groups was highly significant (P < 0.0001). Of divers with shuntrelated DCI, 101 (50.5%) had an atrial defect 10 mm diameter or larger, but only 1.3% of the general population studied had a PFO that was 10 mm diameter of larger. Conclusions: The risk of a diver suffering DCI is related to the size of the atrial defect rather than just the presence of a defect.

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