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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Gas Embolism


Gas/air embolism entails the entry of gas bubbles (emboli) into the bloodstream which in turn leads to restriction of regular blood flow. The relatively rare condition presents itself as either arterial or venous gas embolism. Arterial gas embolism entails entry of gas into the arterial system while venous gas embolism entails entry of gas in the venous system. Gas embolism mostly occurs during invasive surgical procedures on different parts of the body e.g. cardiac or nervous system. The former has a quicker onset and is more fatal compared to the latter. Insufficient reach of oxygen to various body parts has various side effects on the body. Some of the symptoms associated with the condition include excess inflammation, shortness of breath, confusion, loss of consciousness, damage to walls of blood vessels, and weakness of limbs, among other neurological complexities. Blockage of the blood vessels causes redirection of body fluids which leads to swelling of different tissues. Paralysis, seizures and comas could result in dire cases.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which entails breathing of 100% pure oxygen at elevated pressures aids in boosting oxygen delivery to all body tissues. This includes even those whose blood flow has been affected by the gas bubbles. Elimination of nitrogen gas by hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is the main gas that makes up the bubbles, is quite efficient compared to the application of other forms of treatment. The high concentration gradient allows nitrogen to leave and oxygen to come in. The pressure in the oxygen chambers counters the size and frequency of the gas bubbles as studied under Boyle’s Law. This reduces their impact since reducing their concentration renders them almost ineffective. This helps avoid subsequent tissue and organ damage, as well as other health complexities that might occur. HBOT is highly preferred when the size of the bubbles is too small to be seen or treated using other forms of treatment. It is also preferred where other forms of treatment for gas embolism such as radiology-guided aspiration have been ineffective or aren’t easily accessible. Reduced hypoxia in body tissues allows the tissue to resume normal functioning. The activation of white blood cells that results from hypoxia is reversed as well. Activating white blood cells/leukocytes in oxygen-deprived conditions results in increased tissue damage and inflammation. This is kept at bay by the application of HBOT. HBOT has the effect of improving survival chances even as the body is on course to get rid of the gas bubbles. Also, the brain can recover fully once the gas bubbles are suppressed by pressurized oxygen. Through the antioxidant effects introduced by HBOT, there is a reduction in oxidative stress and synthesis of oxygen free radicals. The latter have harmful effects on body tissues. HBOT also helps in fast recovery for the tissues that have been affected by deprivation of oxygen.


Sources

Murphy, R. P., & Donnellan, J. (2019). A high-pressure solution for a high-pressure situation: Management of cerebral air embolism with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Cureus, 6(4), 92–99. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.5559

Trent, J. S., Hodgson, J. K., Ackermann, B., & Studer, N. M. (2020). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for vascular air embolism from iatrogenic intravenous infusion of air in a patient with atrial septal defect: A case report. Cureus, 12(2), 47–53. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.9554

Zanon, V., Magri, S., Bonera, G., & Camporesi, E. (2022). Complete recovery of an iatrogenic venous gaseous embolism (VGE) clinical presentation thanks to a timely hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) treatment. Oxygen, 2(4), 616–620. https://doi.org/10.3390/oxygen2040041




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