Cardiac Stress Testing and technical diving

Around this time every year, most of us hang up a new calendar, and polish up the New Year’s Resolutions. Like me, you probably have a few left over from last January 1. If you do, chances are good that one revolves around “getting fitter,” “getting in better shape,” or “working off all that Christmas pudding.” If that is the case, and you’re a diver, I’d like to suggest adding a slightly different twist for 2012.

During a few recent and very informal discussions with other tech instructors, one of the highest-ranking concerns has been the number of divers – particularly tech and rebreather divers – who have died of heart-related problems either while diving or soon after diving.

There are all kinds of issues that may have had an influence on incidents in the past, but the collective concern was how to help make 2012 a “better year” for the dive community.

One idea floated out was to ask students* to undergo a cardiac stress test as part of the list of prerequisites that need to be met before enrolling in advanced technical programs, such as CCR, trimix and advanced wreck and cave.

A cardiac stress test stimulates the heart – either by exercise or with intravenous pharmacological stimulation – and connecting the testee to an ECG. The American Heart Association recommends this kind of testing for patients with medium risk of coronary heart disease. This includes folks with personal risk factors such as smoking, a family history of coronary artery stenosis, people with hypertension, and folks dealing with diabetes and high cholesterol.

Who knows if it would make much of a difference, but what harm would it do? I’m old and get one for free every year through my insurance (BONUS!), and there is a level of comfort knowing that there are no serious issues with the old ticker.

I believe the cost of a cardiac stress test works out to about the same as the charter fees and fill costs for an open-circuit deep wreck dive. Worth the dough? I think so and certainly worth adding to that list of resolutions… Things to do in 2012!

* Students who have risk factors, or those 45 years and older.

4 thoughts on “Cardiac Stress Testing and technical diving

  1. Steve, a good piece highlighting one of the major issues in UK diving too. Reading through the 2010 DAN Fatalities Workshop ( it was pretty clear from the medical panel that cardiac screening/testing is a good idea, especially for those over 50, but there wasn’t so much of an agreement on how that testing should take place, especially for the 1-2 week holiday diver. The challenge is getting those that are likely to be at risk to understand the risks and getting them to do something about it.


  2. Greetings,

    As a resident of Ontario, is this covered by our health care system? If yes, I’d recommend every diver in Ontario get tested when they get their annual physical; everyone is getting an annual physical, right?

    • Darrell: I have private insurance in addition to OHIP. Not sure if that makes a difference but my stress tests cost me around $55 in co-pay fees. I’d suggest contacting your family doc and asking her/him for a referral.

  3. As a member of the Cardio By-Pass gang, along with being a cave diver, I’ve been particularly vigilant on this. While a stress test is better than nothing, it assesses narrowing/blockages by indirect means (stress) and heart activity. A better solution is a ‘MIBI scan’. This provides direct visual information on narrowing/blockages to the physician.

    Neither of these tests, as I understand them, can address the issue of possible plaque deposits breaking off resulting in an MI.

    IANAD, nor do I play one on TV.

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