Recompression and Adjunctive Therapy for Decompression Illness Academic Article uri icon


  • Decompression illness (DCI) is caused by bubble formation in the blood or tissues after a reduction in ambient pressure. Clinically, DCI may range from a trivial illness to paralysis, loss of consciousness, cardiovascular collapse, and death. Recompression is the universally accepted standard for the treatment of DCI. When recompression is delayed, a number of strategies have been suggested to improve the outcome. We examined the effectiveness and safety of both recompression and adjunctive therapies in the treatment of DCI.We searched CENTRAL (Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) (The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 2); MEDLINE (Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online) (1966 to July 2009); CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature) (1982 to July 2009); EMBASE (Excerpta Medica Database) (1980 to July 2009); the Database of Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) in Hyperbaric Medicine (July 2009); and hand-searched journals and texts. We included RCTs that compared the effect of any recompression schedule or adjunctive therapy with a standard recompression schedule and applied no language restrictions. Three authors extracted the data independently. We assessed each trial for internal validity and resolved differences by discussion. Data were entered into RevMan 5.0 software (Copenhagen: The Nordic Cochrane Centre, The Cochrane Collaboration, 2008).Two RCTs satisfied the inclusion criteria. Pooling of data was not possible. In one study, there was no evidence of improved effectiveness with the addition of a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug to routine recompression therapy (at 6 weeks: relative risk 1.04, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.90-1.20, P = 0.58), but there was a reduction in the number of recompression treatments required when tenoxicam was added (P = 0.01, 95% CI: 0-1). In the other study, the odds of multiple recompressions were lower with a helium and oxygen (heliox) table compared with an oxygen treatment table (relative risk 0.56, 95% CI: 0.31-1.00, P = 0.05).Recompression therapy is the standard for treatment of DCI, but there is no RCT evidence. The addition of a nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug (tenoxicam) or the use of heliox may reduce the number of recompressions required, but neither improves the odds of recovery. The application of either of these strategies may be justified. The modest number of patients studied demands a cautious interpretation. Benefits may be largely economic, and an economic analysis should be undertaken. There is a case for large randomized trials of high methodological rigor to define any benefit from the use of different breathing gases and pressure profiles during recompression.


publication date

  • September 2010