Overweight and ageing scuba divers at risk of cardiac arrest

Middle-aged and older individuals are increasingly taking up scuba diving as a hobby. However statistics show that many in this age grouping are having heart attacks underwater.

Researchers have found that many of these older individuals are no longer fit to take up underwater hobbies. However most of them took up these exercises when they were younger and never gave up as their health declined with age. The team of researchers found that between 1989 and 2015 diving fatalities globally among those who were between 50 and 59 years of age increased from 15 percent to 35 percent.

Image Credit: Rich Carey / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Rich Carey / Shutterstock

Deaths among those over 60 years of age rose from 5 percent to 20 percent they noted. The study was published in the latest issue of the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

When looking at the cause of the deaths, the team of researchers noted that drowning remained the most important cause of death among these scuba divers and the second leading cause of death is heart attacks and strokes under water. Study author Dr Peter Buzzacott, of the University of Western Australia, in Crawley, Australia called cardiac issues or heart disease related events to be one of the leading causes of fatalities among the divers. “Divers who learned to dive years ago and who are now old and overweight, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, are at increased risk of dying,” he explained. All scuba divers at the beginning of their diving are trained rigorously and are screened for fitness he said. The certification however lasts for life and often when the fitness has declined, the person still retains the certificate warned the researchers.

For this new study the team of researchers looked at a databank in the US, covering 736 million people. Among these individuals, 113,892 claimed scuba diving to be their main hobby. They noted that one third of these individuals were aged 50 or older and quite a few of them had heart disease risk factors that raised their chances of getting a heart attack under water. Over half (54 percent) had smoked cigarettes at some point in their lives, the team noted. This was comparable to 46 percent present or past smokers among the non divers. Around 48 percent of the divers were overweight and 43 percent of the non divers were overweight in the study sample. High blood pressure and high cholesterol was noted in around one third of all individuals. Prof Buzacott said that new divers are not the ones that have health issues. The health issues were noted among older divers who were fit at the time of certification. He emphasized upon the need for routine physical fitness and health assessments to be made among all divers. Excess weight should be lost and high blood pressure and cholesterol needs to be controlled he said.

As a parting shot he added that the study does not discourage older people from scuba diving. “The father of scuba, Jacques Cousteau, was diving at 90 and the current world’s oldest diver is 94,” he said. However the key is to remain fit for diving if one wants to go scuba diving during their “senior years”, he explained.


https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/ageing-overweight-scuba-divers-at-risk-of-underwater-heart-attack (1) Buzzacott P, Edelson C, Bennett CM, Denoble PJ. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease among active adult US scuba divers. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2018. DOI: 10.1177/2047487318790290.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

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Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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