Decompression sickness

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Decompression sickness (DCS; also historically or colloquially known as divers' disease, the bends or caisson disease) describes a condition arising from dissolved gases coming out of solution into bubbles inside the body on depressurisation. DCS most commonly refers to a specific type of scuba diving hazard but may be experienced in other depressurisation events such as caisson working, flying in unpressurised aircraft and extra-vehicular activity from spacecraft.

Since bubbles can form in or migrate to any part of the body, DCS can produce many symptoms, and its effects may vary from joint pain and rashes, to paralysis and death. Individual susceptibility can vary from day to day, and different individuals under the same conditions may be affected differently or not at all. The classification of types of DCS by its symptoms has evolved since its original description over a hundred years ago.

Although DCS is not a common event, its potential severity is such that much research has gone into preventing it, and scuba divers use dive tables or dive computers to set limits on their exposure to pressure and their ascent speed. Treatment is by hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a recompression chamber. If treated early, there is a significantly higher chance of successful recovery.

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