Many health organizations highlight the benefits of regular health checkups by a qualified physician because such checkups help find any conditions that may become real problems, but which can be treated relatively easily or avoided through lifestyle changes if caught early on. Checkups are particularly relevant for scuba divers, and while most of us had a medical examination when we did our scuba training, that may have been a long time ago.
Scuba Diver Health
Many problems, such as some heart conditions, can develop over time without notice due to the lack, or mildness, of early symptoms. However, particularly with heart conditions, some of the first serious warning signs are blackouts. And while a blackout can be dangerous in everyday life if it happens while you’re driving, for example, the consequences will always be that much more severe if it happens underwater. Health professionals blame a number of scuba drowning accidents on a sudden loss of consciousness due to some condition previously undiagnosed, which then causes a diver to drown.
The commercial-diver health check
Annual checkups are often mandatory for commercial divers, and these are quite extensive, including several tests that are perhaps a bit of overkill for the average diver. But recreational divers can take a page from this book and do something similar. Frequency needn’t be quite as high as for commercial divers, though older divers or those with pre-existing conditions should consider annual checkups, or more if your physician recommends it.
The recreational-diver health check
The first step would be to talk to your own physician about regular health checks, if you’re not already receiving them. Tell your doctor that you’re a diver, and ask what tests and examinations he or she recommends based on this fact. A number of dive organizations have health checklists that you can bring as a reference guide for your doctor if he or she isn’t sure what’s relevant for scuba divers. Ask your doctor if he or she would be comfortable performing these tests, or if you should get a referral to a dive-medicine specialist. Your own doctor will, however, know your personal medical history and know of any medicine you’re taking, and can take this into consideration.
For most healthy scuba divers, a quick checkup with their family doctor will probably suffice. But if you want to go that extra mile, or in particular if you have a pre-existing condition (or you are diagnosed with one during a regular checkup), seeing a dive-medicine specialist is a good idea. There are a number of conditions that don’t necessarily mean someone cannot dive, but they will require a bit more extensive diagnosis to determine whether or not diving is safe. These are called relative contraindications, (as opposed to absolute contraindications, such as epilepsy, which do preclude someone from scuba diving), and include migraines and the use of a pacemaker. Find a complete list of scuba-diving relative contraindications online, and if any of them apply, you should consider receiving an exam by a specialist.
Regular health checkups are not only useful in helping us monitor our health and make lifestyle adjustments as needed, but also in making sure that we can continue diving safely into our old age.