Scuba Diving After Heart Surgery

Can a person who has had bypass surgery dive with restrictions?

The short answer is “possibly,” and, of course, depends on individual circumstances. Certainly, many divers have had the procedure performed, and have been cleared for diving after this and other forms of heart surgery. That's probably not surprising given that surgeons perform these procedures by the hundreds every day to the tune of more than 500,000 times annually. Diving and other forms of strenuous exercise are possible after bypass surgery because, if the procedure is successful, the patient should become free of the symptoms of coronary artery disease, and the heart muscle should receive normal blood flow and oxygen.

In medical recommendations, the “Guidelines for Recreational Scuba Diver's Physical Examination,” which are part of the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council) Medical Statement that many divers complete and sign prior to entering a scuba class clearly identify “history of coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG)” under the “relative risk” category. But opinions vary.

A number of physicians who automatically disqualify as a diving candidate any patient who has undergone any form of bypass or similar procedure. However, others are more lenient with patients who were divers prior to the procedure, and wish to return to diving. Clearly, it's an individual matter.

The final call on the fitness-to-dive issue is between the patient and his or her cardiologist. The concern is that someone who has undergone a bypass may have suffered significant cardiac damage prior to having the surgery. Therefore, it's the post-operative cardiac function of the patient that dictates their fitness for diving.

According to the Divers Alert Network (DAN), anyone who has had open-chest surgery needs appropriate medical evaluation prior to scuba diving. After a period of stabilization and healing (6-12 months is usually recommended), the individual should have a thorough cardiovascular evaluation before being cleared to dive. He or she should be free of chest pain and have normal exercise tolerance, as evidenced by a normal stress EKG test If there is any doubt about the success of the procedure or how open the coronary arteries are, the individual should refrain from diving. If you'd like more information, an excellent overview is offered by Dr. James Caruso in an article, “Cardiovascular Fitness and Diving,” available on DAN's website.

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