Older, overweight scuba divers vulnerable to heart attack underwater
From 1989 to 2015, the proportion of diving fatalities involving 50-59 year-olds increased steadily from 15 to 35 percent, while fatalities in the over-60s soared from five to 20 percent.
Older, overweight scuba divers are being urged to shed pounds to avoid an underwater heart attack, by scientists who found that cardiac ailments are one of the leading causes of diving-related deaths.
"It's not commonly new divers who have health problems, because they have been recently screened. It is older drivers who have not looked after their health," said Peter Buzzacott, of the University of Western Australia.
Until now there has been no clear picture of how common cardiovascular risk factors are among active divers. Previous research has been limited to surveys of dive club members or insured divers.
This was the first study conducted among divers in the general population.
The researchers used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a telephone survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Scuba diving was included as an activity in 2011, 2013, and 2015 surveys. The three surveys represent nearly 736 million people, of whom around 498 million (68 percent) had been active in the previous month and, for 113,892 people (0.02 percent), their principal activity was scuba diving.
A significantly greater proportion of divers (54 percent) had smoked cigarettes at some point compared with non-divers (46 percent) but more divers had given up smoking (40 percent versus 26 percent).
Divers were more frequently overweight (48 percent versus 43 percent) but had lower mean body mass index overall than the non-divers.
One-third of divers had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and 30 percent had high cholesterol - levels that were not statistically different from the comparison group.
Researchers advised all drivers to have routine fitness assessments with their doctor and tackle risk factors that otherwise could lead to a fatal cardiac event while diving.
"Never before in history have so many people been exposing themselves to these extraordinary environmental stresses and, for the first time ever, we now have a large number of people who have spent their entire lives regularly scuba diving," said Buzzacott.
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