OBJECTIVE--To determine whether the presence of a patent foramen ovale could result in significant arterial desaturation and affect the responses of heart rate and blood pressure to physiological manoeuvres and to determine whether responses differed between those with and those without prior clinical events associated with a patent foramen ovale. DESIGN--Blind controlled study. SETTING--Teaching hospital. PATIENTS--Divers with a large patent foramen ovale shown by contrast echocardiography and divided into those who had neurological decompression illness that started within 30 minutes of surfacing (group 1), those who had no history of decompression illness (group 2), and age and sex matched control divers who had no evidence of intracardiac shunts (group 3). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--The change in percentage haemoglobin oxygen saturation during treadmill exercise and the response of heart rate and blood pressure to physiological manoeuvres. RESULTS--There were no significant differences between the three groups but two divers in group 1 showed clinically important desaturation during exercise and unusual blood pressure and heart rate responses to passive tilt. These divers were notable for having the greatest number of episodes and the most severe single episode of spinal cord decompression illness. CONCLUSION--A large patent foramen ovale may be associated with clinically significant arterial desaturation and unusual responses of heart rate and blood pressure in some healthy subjects.
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