Beneficial Mechanisms of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Frequently used alongside other surgical or medical treatments, Hyperbaric medicine enhances the healing process by using the following mechanisms:
Hyperoxygenation: HBOT gives immediate support to tissues with compromised blood flow. Elevated pressures in the chamber lead to 10-15 fold increases in plasma oxygen concentration, increasing arterial oxygen values anywhere from 30 mm Hg to 2,000 mm Hg. This permits oxygen to spread beyond the blood capillaries by as much as four fold. Using HBOT in this way can buy time for patients, keeping their tissues viable until doctors and surgeons can implement corrective measures or establish a new blood supply.
Neovascularization: Surgery, radiation, severe traumas, ulcers, bacterial infections or other diseases can damage or destroy parts of the circulatory system and the tissues supported by that blood supply.Rebuilding healthy new blood capillaries first requires the body to form new fibroblast cells that produce collagen and other fibers. After re-establishing blood supplies, the body can begin to regenerate damaged tissue. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy accelerates both of these processes.
Hyperoxia: The high oxygen levels in hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps to kill bad bacteria like strep, staph or clostridium perfringens that cause gas gangrene. The added oxygen also enables the body’s immune system to function better and fight off foreign organisms. Recent research has shown that HBOT can boost and prolong the effectiveness of tobramycin in treating pseudomonas bacteria.
Direct Pressure: “Boyle’s Law” states that at constant temperature, the volume and the pressure of a gas are inversely proportional. This means a gas compresses proportionately to the amount of pressure that’s exerted on it. For more than a century, hyperbaric medicine has used this concept to treat decompression sickness (the bends), that scuba divers or those at high altitudes suffer from when dissolved gasses form bubbles within the body. When left undiagnosed and untreated, the bends can cause joint pain, paralysis and even death. Hyperbaric oxygen successfully treats decompression illness by compressing gas bubbles to shrink their size and rapidly remove the nitrogen inside of them until the bubbles are gone. As a secondary benefit, HBOT can reduce post-injury inflammation.
Hypoxia-induced Vasoconstriction: Compartment syndrome is a painful disorder that happens when pressure within skeletal muscle compartments builds to unsafe levels. This pressure can reduce blood flow, which prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching nerve and muscle cells. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency. It is usually caused by a severe injury where normal tissue functioning is damaged, leading to increased tissue pressure, decreased capillary blood flow, hypoxia in local tissues, and tissue cell death.
The treatment of choice for acute compartment syndrome is early decompression. This could be in the form of surgery, where surgeons cut the facia (a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or another organ) in order to relieve pressure. It’s important to note, however, that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can supplement surgery and in some cases even enable patients to avoid it. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces blood vessel swelling, allowing blood to flow more freely through injured tissues, supplying healing oxygen and nutrients and transporting cellular debris out of the body.
Healing Reperfusion Injury: Reperfusion injury refers to the tissue damage that is caused when blood supply returns to the tissue after a period of inadequate blood supply or lack of oxygen. One hypothesis is that a series of events inside of damaged cells can lead to the release of harmful free radicals. These molecules can cause irreversible tissue damage and cause blood vessels to constrict and stop blood flow. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments encourage the body’s free radical scavengers to hunt down the problem molecules and permit healing to occur.
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