This disorder of brain function causes episodic alterations of consciousness, called epileptic seizures. Abnormal electrical discharges in the brain cause these episodes; they may occur without warning, and they may vary in character from a brief loss of attention to violent, prolonged convulsion. People may outgrow the condition; it is often, but not always, controlled by medication.
Fitness & Diving
Loss of consciousness or loss of awareness while underwater carries a high risk of drowning or embolism from an uncontrolled ascent. An analysis of motor vehicle operators with epilepsy has shown that a seizure occurring behind the wheel will result in an accident in nearly every instance, but no evidence exists that diving with compressed air scuba to the accepted 130 fsw limit increases the risk of epileptic seizures. One is no more likely to seize while diving than while driving: the risk is the same. There is no useful data to determine the potential for injury in divers with epilepsy.
Current doctrine among diving medicine physicians advises that individuals with epilepsy not dive. Those with childhood epilepsy, who have outgrown the condition and have been off medication for five years, still face a slightly increased risk of a seizure. To make an informed decision about diving, these individuals should discuss this with their personal physicians, families and diving companions.
Medication Used in Treatment
Anti-seizure medication acts directly on the brain and may interact with high partial pressures of nitrogen. This may produce unexpected side effects.
For more information on conditions involving the central nervous system, see all of Dr. Hugh Greer's article from the May/June 1999 issue of Alert Diver.