Written by DAN staff
Heart health is essential to an active lifestyle that includes scuba diving. Symptoms of heart conditions are often subtle or easily missed, and in some cases, the first indication of a serious cardiac problem may be a heart attack. That’s why it’s imperative for divers to truthfully complete the RSTC Medical Statement and disclose their health histories before starting training. It’s also important for you to know the primary risk factors of heart disease because they apply to dive professionals just as much as student divers.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a contributing factor in 13 percent of cardiac deaths, and may lead to a thickening and weakening of the tissues in the heart. This change in heart tissue can cause disturbances in heart rhythms, and elevate the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure. While high blood pressure alone may seem relatively benign, it’s important to recognize that it can result in some very serious consequences if left unaddressed.
While smoking causes a well-known laundry list of cardiopulmonary issues, it’s also a leading cause of cardiac diseases. Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, sudden cardiac death and cancer. It also increases blood pressure and lipid levels and can result in sustained, low-level inflammation that causes the cardiovascular system to deteriorate, and may increase DCS risk.
Hyperlipidemia or high cholesterol may double a person’s 10-year risk of dying, and increases risk of clotting conditions, high blood pressure and stroke. High cholesterol levels rarely give obvious symptoms until it cause a serious cardiac issue. Lipid levels should be tested regularly by a physician and can be controlled through diet and medication.
Inactive people are twice as likely to develop heart disease as active people. Regular exercise helps to maintain both health and a capacity for sustained exercise. Also, exercise can slow a decline in exercise capacity due to aging and reduce risks of many health-related hazards.
Obesity can be a difficult subject to address, but it significantly elevates a person’s risk of cardiac problems, among other hazards. Divers who struggle with obesity may need to exert themselves more while diving, which places additional strain on their heart, and may have difficulty dealing with the physical demands of strenuous dives, putting them at an increased risk of injury.
For more information on cardiac risks and diving, visit DAN.org/Health