Hyperbaric chambers have been around for about one hundred years. Many people have heard of them, perhaps even seen them on the television, but relatively few have received treatment from them. What are they for? What is hyperbaric treatment?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (or HBOT) involves a patient being placed in a hyperbaric chamber where pure oxygen exists under increased (about two or three times) atmospheric pressure. An oxygen mask may also be placed over the face, and the patient must breathe steadily in this environment for around two hours. The lungs are able to gather significantly higher levels of oxygen in these controlled conditions, resulting in oxygen rich blood being pumped to every cell in the body. It may take repeated sessions to achieve the desired results. This treatment was first applied to scuba divers that suffered from decompression sickness (also known as ‘the bends’). When a diver comes up to the surface from deep in water, they must be careful to do this slowly and carefully. The changes in atmospheric pressure can cause air bubbles to develop in the person’s blood, a potentially deadly condition. With the use of HBOT treatment, these air bubbles dissipate, and higher levels of oxygen are available to the body as a whole.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Stroke Patients
Strokes can be categorised into two types: ischemic and haemorrhagic. Both types of stroke can result in a lower level of oxygen in the brain. This lack of oxygenation can stop damaged areas of the brain from healing and lead to even more brain damage. Higher levels of oxygen for stroke patients are therefore of utmost importance. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for stroke patients can be of great help through the healing process. A hyperbaric chamber can push higher levels of oxygen deep into every cell of the body, including the brain. When we receive injuries to our bodies, we need even more oxygenated blood than usual to heal those areas. Highly oxygenated blood fights off any bacteria that is present and stimulates various healing mechanisms. High levels of oxygen in damaged parts of the brain help to minimise further damage caused by the stroke. Brain swelling can be brought down, facilitating the movement of oxygenated blood and nutrients around the damage. For patients that have suffered a stroke, the use of hyperbaric therapy can aid healing, helping the patient to conserve their energy for physical rehabilitation. As the brain heals, memory recall is improved along with coordination, balance, strength and endurance. These are all vital parts of a successful post stroke recovery. When the brain is working as it should, the body can learn to function properly again. Some medical professionals involved in the use of HBOT treatment claim that stroke patients experience various benefits. These include reduced pressure in the brain, better levels of oxygenation even after the therapy, an improvement of cerebral tissue metabolic rate, and less instances of necrosis and apoptosis in the post-stroke cells.
Can hyperbaric oxygen therapy make a difference in the care of stroke patients? The science suggests it can!