Decompression illness

Decompression Illness (DCI) describes a range of symptoms arising from decompression of the body.

DCI can be caused by two different mechanisms, which result in overlapping sets of symptoms. The two mechanisms are:

In any situation which could cause decompression sickness, there is also potentially a risk of arterial gas embolism, and as many of the symptoms are common to both conditions, it may be difficult to distinguish between the two in the field, and first aid treatment is the same for both mechanisms.

Mechanisms of injury

Signs and symptoms

Below is a summary comparison of the signs and symptoms of DCI arising from its two components: Decompression Sickness and Arterial Gas Embolism. Many signs and symptoms are common to both maladies, and it may be difficult to diagnose the actual problem. The dive history can be useful to distinguish which is more probable, but it is possible for both components to manifest at the same time following some dive profiles.

A more detailed account of the signs and symptoms of Decompression Sickness can be found here.

Decompression sicknessArterial Gas Embolism
Skin rashBloody froth from mouth or nose
Paralysis, muscle weaknessParalysis or weakness
Difficulty in urinatingConvulsions
Confusion, personality changes, bizarre behaviour Unconsciousness
Loss of memory, tremorsNo breathing
Collapse or unconsciousness
Skin itchBlurring of Vision
Pain in joints or musclesAreas of decreased sensation
Dizziness, vertigo, ringing in the earsChest pain
Numbness, tingling and paralysisDisorientation
Shortness of breath

First aid

First aid is common for both DCS and AGE:


Treatment for the Decompression Sickness and the Arterial Gas Embolism components of DCI may differ significantly. Refer to the separate treatments under those articles.


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