Go Ahead, Take the Plunge
Scuba Diving Does NOT Pose a Risk to the Brain
January 5, 2001

Does scuba diving cause brain damage? Two reports in the 1990s (see references #1 and #3 below) suggested that diving could produce neurological damage including small brain abnormalities (lesions). However, a new report (Neurology, 55:1743-1745, 2000) refutes these findings and suggests that diving does NOT cause long-term brain damage if routine safety guidelines are followed.

Researchers at Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany and the German Naval Medical Institute compared the results of psychological tests and brain scans of 24 professional German Navy divers with those of 24 nondiving Navy employees. Divers made an average of 1,652 dives and had been diving for an average of 17.3 years. All subjects in both groups were given tests for attention (six different tests), memory (three different tests), general intelligence (six different tests), mood (two different tests), verbal fluency (two different tests) and fine motor skills (two different tests). A magnetic resonance image (MRI) of each subject's brain was also performed to check for brain damage.

Good News for Divers

The only significant difference between the divers and non-divers was a longer reaction time in divers on one of the six attention tests. Brain images revealed that six divers had a total of 10 lesions and ten non-divers had a total of 24 lesions. The lesion sizes were NOT different between the groups and there was no correlation between the lesions and psychological test results.

This study suggests that scuba diving does not increase the risk of brain damage. So go ahead and take the plunge...just make sure to follow the proper saftey guidelines and watch out for the sharks!

References and further information

  1. Calder, I., Does diving damage your brain?, Occupational Medicine, 42:213-214, 1992.
  2. Cordes, P., Keil, R., Bartsch, T., Tetzlaff, K., Reuter, M., Hutzelmann, A., Friege, L., Meyer, T., Bettinghausen, E. and Deuschl, G., Neurologic outcome of controlled compressed-air diving, Neurology, 55:1743-1745, 2000.
  3. Reul, J., Weis, J., Jung, A., Willmes. K. and Thron, A, Central nervous system lesions and cervical disc herniations in amateur divers, Lancet, 345:1403-1405, 1995.

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