DAN Medical Frequently Asked Questions

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Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD) and Diving

My daughter has a ventricular septal defect and wants to learn to dive. Can she?

A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a communication, or opening, between the right and left ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart. A fairly common developmental abnormality, VSD often merits surgical correction if the defect is large.

Because of the large difference in pressures between the left and right ventricles, blood flow through the defect is nearly always from left to right. The individual with ventricular septal defects may experience long-term consequences.

Fitness and Diving Issue

While the normal pressures in the chambers of the heart favor blood flowing from left to right through a VSD, Doppler studies have shown that most divers will have venous bubbles after a dive of significant depth and bottom time. These usually pose no significant threat, and the diver remains symptom-free.

Individuals with a VSD, where the shunt is small and runs uniformly from left to right (as determined by an echocardiogram), may be able to dive if it is determined to be safe by a physician knowledgeable in dive medicine.

For more information on cardiovascular conditions, see the complete article by Dr. James L. Caruso, "Cardiovascular Fitness and Diving," from the July/August 1999 issue of Alert Diver click here.