Decompression sickness (DCS) is a condition caused by a rapid reduction in the ambient pressure surrounding the body. When decompression occurs, nitrogen and other inert gases that are normally dissolved in body tissue and fluid expand to form bubbles that rise out of solution, in the same way that dissolved CO2 appears as bubbles when you uncap a bottle of soda.
These bubbles produce a variety of symptoms, which range from pain in the large joints of the body, such as elbows, shoulders, hips, wrists, knees and ankles, to seizures and unconsciousness. These symptoms tend to increase in severity depending on the rate and amount of pressure change and, if severe enough, can result in death.
- Bends. Bubbles in the joints which cause rheumatic-like pains. Movement or rubbing the affected parts only aggravates the pain but descent usually solves the problem. The most common symptom of DCS.
- Creeps. Nitrogen bubbles released under the skin causes the sufferer to feel that a small compact colony of ants are crawling over or under the skin.
- Chokes. Nitrogen bubbles are caught in the capillaries of the lungs, blocking the pulmonary blood flow causing serious shortness of breath.
- Staggers. The bubbles affect the blood supply to the brain and nervous system.
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