Frequency of decompression illness among recent and extinct mammals and “reptiles”: a review

Abstract

The frequency of decompression illness was high among the extinct marine “reptiles” and very low among the marine mammals. Signs of decompression illness are still found among turtles but whales and seals are unaffected. In humans, the risk of decompression illness is five times increased in individuals with Patent Foramen Ovale; this condition allows blood shunting from the venous circuit to the systemic circuit. This right-left shunt is characteristic of the “reptile” heart, and it is suggested that this could contribute to the high frequency of decompression illness in the extinct reptiles.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Bent Lindow and Gilles Cuny (The Natural History Museum of Denmark) for guiding me during the writing of the manuscript and John Bailey (Department of Geography and Geology – University of Copenhagen) for correcting the English language. I thank Jesper Milan (Geomuseum Faxe, Denmark) for helping me with drawing the figures. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism, which improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Agnete Weinreich Carlsen.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Carlsen, A.W. Frequency of decompression illness among recent and extinct mammals and “reptiles”: a review. Sci Nat 104, 56 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-017-1477-1

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Keywords

  • Decompression illness
  • Avascular bone necrosis
  • Extinct marine reptiles
  • Patent foramen ovale
  • Right-left shunt