Strokes remain an uncommon but significant complication of cardiac surgery. Cerebral air embolism is the likely aetiology in the majority of cases. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the recognised treatment for cerebral air embolism associated with compressed air (SCUBA) diving accidents and is therefore also the standard of care for iatrogenic causes of air embolism. It follows that there is a logic in treating post-cardiac surgical stroke patients with hyperbaric oxygen. The aim of this retrospective review was to examine the outcomes of 12 such patients treated in the Christchurch Hospital hyperbaric unit and to appraise the evidence base for the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in this setting. Despite delays of up to 48 hours following surgery before the institution of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, 10 of the 12 patients made a full neurological recovery or were left with mild residual symptoms, with nine returning to their previous level of care. One patient remained hemiplegic and there was one early neurological death. There is a paucity of prospective data in this area, but based on sound pathophysiological principles and clinical experience, we believe that patients suffering a stroke following open cardiac surgery should be considered for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Gibson, Davis, , , , , , , (2010). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the treatment of post cardiac surgical strokes–a case series and review of the literature. Anaesthesia and intensive care, 2010 Jan;38(1):175-84. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20191794