HYPERBARIC OXYGEN THERAPY AN EFFECTIVE TREATMENT FOR AN ASSORTMENT OF MEDICAL CONDITIONS
October 9, 2009
Dear Mayo Clinic:
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy? What is it used for?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room to increase the blood-oxygen level.
Historically, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used for deep-sea divers who experience decompression sickness also known as "the bends" which occurs when dissolved nitrogen gas bubbles form in the body's tissues when a diver returns to the water surface too quickly. But HBOT can be used to treat an assortment of other medical conditions, too, including serious infections, bubbles of air in the blood vessels (arterial gas embolism), wounds that won't heal due to diabetes or radiation injury, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, gangrene, brain abscesses, burns, skin grafts or skin flaps at risk of tissue death, and severe anemia.
The body's tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function. When tissues are injured, they require more oxygen than usual to survive. HBOT increases the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to tissues.
In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy room, the air pressure is raised up to three times higher than normal. Under these conditions, the lungs can gather up to three times more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. The increased oxygen dissolves in the blood and circulates throughout the body. The oxygen-rich blood stimulates the body to release growth factors and stem cells, which help heal wounds and fight infection.
HBOT typically is performed as an outpatient procedure and doesn't require hospitalization. Depending on the type of medical institution and the reason for treatment, HBOT can be administered either in a unit designed for one person or in a room that can accommodate several people.
In an individual (monoplace) HBOT unit, the patient lies down on a padded table that slides into a clear plastic tube about seven feet long. In a multiperson HBOT room which usually looks like a hospital waiting room the patient sits or lies down. A lightweight, clear hood may be placed over the patient's head to deliver the oxygen, or oxygen may be administered through a mask worn over the face.
To be effective, hyperbaric oxygen therapy requires more than one session. The number of HBOT sessions depends on the medical condition. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can be treated in as few as three visits. Others, such as non-healing wounds, may require 25 to 30 treatments.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy alone can often effectively treat decompression sickness, arterial gas embolism and severe carbon monoxide poisoning. But to effectively treat other conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and is administered in conjunction with additional therapies and medications tailored to the patient's needs.
More research regarding hyperbaric oxygen therapy is under way. Currently, the scientific evidence is insufficient to support claims that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can effectively treat allergies, arthritis, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, cirrhosis, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ulcers and stroke.
If you have questions about HBOT, talk to your doctor. For more details online, reliable information is available on the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society's Web site.
Paul Claus, M.D., Hyperbaric and Altitude Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
I have been going for HbOT every week since 1995. I have had ME since 1968 and atypical MS since 1989.
Basically, the oxygen speeds up healing. Broken bones and cuts mend fast. I think it heals lesions so that scar tissue doesn't build up.
Dr James who introduced HbOT for MS believes that anyone with neurological symptoms should be given it as soon as possible to prevent deterioration. It has certainly been that way for me. I was losing the ability to walk and needed my food cut up and fed to me.
It helps makes me feel brighter, like a day at the seaside (!) and improves sleep but most of all it has stopped what seemed to be an inexorable deterioration.
I think a single session of an hour once a week is different from daily cannula oxygen so Dr Cheney's ideas don't apply.