It has been widely believed that tissue nitrogen uptake from the lungs during breath-hold diving would be insufficient to cause decompression stress in humans. With competitive free diving, however, diving depths have been ever increasing over the past decades.
A case is presented of a competitive free-diving athlete who suffered stroke-like symptoms after surfacing from his last dive of a series of 3 deep breath-hold dives. A literature and Web search was performed to screen for similar cases of subjects with serious neurological symptoms after deep breath-hold dives.
A previously healthy 31-y-old athlete experienced right-sided motor weakness and difficulty speaking immediately after surfacing from a breathhold dive to a depth of 100 m. He had performed 2 preceding breath-hold dives to that depth with surface intervals of only 15 min. The presentation of symptoms and neuroimaging findings supported a clinical diagnosis of stroke. Three more cases of neurological insults were retrieved by literature and Web search; in all cases the athletes presented with stroke-like symptoms after single breath-hold dives of depths exceeding 100 m. Two of these cases only had a short delay to recompression treatment and completely recovered from the insult.
This report highlights the possibility of neurological insult, eg, stroke, due to cerebral arterial gas embolism as a consequence of decompression stress after deep breath-hold dives. Thus, stroke as a clinical presentation of cerebral arterial gas embolism should be considered another risk of extreme breath-hold diving.