Hyperbaric medicine, also known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the medical use of oxygen at a higher than atmospheric pressure. Hyper means increased and baric relates to pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) refers to intermittent treatment of the entire body with 100-percent oxygen at greater than normal atmospheric pressure. The earth's atmosphere normally exerts about 15 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. That pressure is defined as one atmosphere absolute (1 ATA). In the ambient atmosphere we normally breathe approximately 20 percent oxygen and 80 percent nitrogen. While undergoing HBOT, pressure is increased up to two times (2 ATA) in 100% oxygen.
This increased pressure, combined with an increase in oxygen to 100 percent, dissolves oxygen in the blood plasma and in all body cells, tissues and fluids at up to 10 times normal concentration—high enough to sustain life with no blood at all (from 20% to 100% oxygen is an increase of 5 times, from 1 ATA to 2 ATA can double this to a 10-fold increase).
- greatly increases oxygen concentration in all body tissues, even with reduced or blocked blood flow;
- stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to locations with reduced circulation, improving blood flow to areas with arterial blockage;
- causes a rebound arterial dilation, resulting in an increased blood vessel diameter greater than when therapy began, improving blood flow to compromised organs;
- stimulates an adaptive increase in superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the body's principal, internally produced antioxidants and free radical scavengers; and,
- aids the treatment of infection by enhancing white blood cell action.
The use of increased atmospheric pressure for medical therapy has intrigued many physicians and scientists for hundreds of years. Though not new, HBOT has recently gained importance for treatment of chronic degenerative health problems related to atherosclerosis, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, diabetic ulcers, wound healing, cerebral palsy, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, and many other disorders. Wherever blood flow and oxygen delivery to vital organs is reduced, function and healing can be aided with HBOT. When the brain is injured by stroke, CP, or trauma, HBOT may activate stunned parts of the brain to restore function.
Results can be dramatic. Patients with cerebral vascular disease commonly recover from complications of stroke more readily after HBOT. This is also true for potentially gangrenous legs and feet caused by blocked circulation, and for slow-healing diabetic ulcers. HBOT relieves pain, helps fight infection, and keeps threatened tissues alive.
One of the world's most experienced authorities on hyperbaric medicine Dr. Edgar End, clinical professor of environmental medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin had this to say : "I've seen partially paralyzed people half carried into the HBOT chamber, and they walk out after the first treatment. If we got to these people quickly, we could prevent a great deal of damage."
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