decompression syndrome

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Syn: caisson disease, the bends. The response to a sudden decrease in ambient air pressure, as when the high-pressure environment required to counteract the effect of water pressure on a fragile submerged vessel is suddenly reduced, or when an aircraft climbs suddenly to high altitude. Release of dissolved gases (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide) from blood and other body fluids, even synovial fluid in joints, bursts capillaries, arterioles, and venules and produces multiple air emboli. The condition is acutely painful and can be fatal. It requires emergency treatment in a decompression chamber, where air pressure is gradually restored over a period of hours to normal atmospheric pressure. The condition is both depth- and time-dependent, so scuba divers who immerse for long periods in relatively shallow water may be vulnerable.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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