Poor health in former North Sea divers is associated with decompression sickness, according to a new report.

A team from Haukeland University Hospital in Norway investigated the impact of decompression sickness and diving exposure on the health of Norwegian divers who previously worked in the North Sea.

They questioned 230 ex-divers on their diving education and history of decompression sickness. They also gave them a questionnaire to fill in to assess their health status, called the SF-36 questionnaire. This measures eight properties: physical functioning, social functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, role limitations due to emotional problems, mental health, energy/vitality, pain and general health perception.

All the questionnaire scores were significantly reduced compared with Norwegian norms. Further reduced scores were seen among divers who reported previous decompression sickness compared to those without decompression sickness. There was a decreasing trend in scores related to number of days in saturation and maximal depth. However, the impact of saturation diving was present only in divers who had experienced decompression sickness.

The researchers concluded that having had decompression sickness during a diving career contributes significantly to a reduction in all health aspects, and neurological decompression sickness has the most pronounced impact. Cumulative diving exposure, including days in saturation, and maximal depth also contributed to poorer health.

Journal reference: Occupational Medicine, doi:10.1093/occmed/kqm032

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