Hyperbaric O2: Good for some things, but not others

Most of the stuff you hear about hyperbaric oxygen being used to treat is total nonsense. It isn't effective at treating autism or cerebral palsy.

But an article in the Times makes the point that it is effective for treating some things:

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, the professional organization in this field, recognizes 13 conditions for which it is legitimate to place patients in high-pressure chambers that force pure oxygen into their blood and tissues. Eleven of those conditions have been approved by Medicare for reimbursement, indicating that solid evidence supports these uses of hyperbaric oxygen.

The list includes decompression sickness ("the bends"), necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating disease), carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, the bone infection osteomyelitis, nonhealing wounds and delayed radiation injury to bone and soft tissue.


But nowhere in the list are cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, stroke, macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, sports injuries, heart attack, postpolio syndrome, Lyme disease, migraine, cirrhosis, myasthenia gravis, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome -- among the dozens of conditions that independent clinics claim to treat with hyperbaric oxygen. Not to mention the claims of celebrities like Michael Jackson, who used it in the hope that it will keep him alive to 150, and Keanu Reeves, who used it for insomnia.

"Credibility is a huge problem," said Richard E. Clarke, director of the Baromedical Research Foundation, which sponsors scientifically sound research. "We are all tarred by the same brush."

"Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been suggested as beneficial in several other conditions, unfortunately, clinically valid evidence is virtually nonexistent," he said. "This is relatively expensive and time-consuming therapy, and it makes sense to ask whether it is cost-effective and whether the benefits are long-lasting."

Read the whole thing. In many cases, the reason that we want to use hyperbaric oxygen is to fight off an infection from an anaerobic bacteria that has taken up shop in your body. The oxygen limits the growth of the bacteria and helps your immune system get rid of it.

The problem is that many crank doctors have diverted this very valid medical technique under some circumstances for the treatment of diseases for which it has no proven effectiveness. Cerebral palsy is caused by part of your brain dying. No amount of oxygen forced into the tissues is going to cause a recovery from that.

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Thereâs an excellent doctor discussion of this new technology at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAiWWNCfYH4

By Dr M Sullivan (not verified) on 14 Mar 2009 #permalink

My dad had hyperbaric oxygen treatment once for his MS. It restored some mobility--I remember seeing him walking, for a while, without even a cane--but the effect was very short-lived (If I remember correctly, it wore off over the course of a few weeks). I think he only went for it once.

That's the thing. I am totally willing to believe temporary improvements for some diseases. I don't dispute your observation. To be fair, it may have been placebo with your father. It is difficult to know.

The point, though, is that the Hyberbaric Medicine Society recognizes a limited number of diseases for which there are demonstrable long-term benefits of high pressure oxygen. There are a lot of people out there that want to extend that list.

I'm not really disputing that. I think the fact that he didn't continue the treatments in the face of serious debilitation speaks enough for the real effectiveness.

We are dedicated to promoting Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in India. While thousand of Hyperbaric systems are sold worldwide, only few centers are using them. Is it due to the high cost of systems, awareness or both?

What about HBOT in stroke recovery?