Introduction: Neurologic decompression sickness (NDCS) can affect high-altitude pilots, causing variable central nervous system symptoms. Five recent severe episodes prompted further investigation. Methods: We report the hyperintense white matter (HWM) lesion imaging findings in 50 U-2 pilot volunteers, and compare 12 U-2 pilots who experienced clinical NDCS to 38 U-2 pilots who did not. The imaging data were collected using a 3T magnetic resonance imaging scanner and high-resolution (1-mm isotropic) three-dimensional fluid-attenuated inversion recovery sequence. Whole-brain and regional lesion volume and number were compared between groups. Results: The NDCS group had significantly increased whole brain and insular volumes of HWM lesions. The intergroup difference in lesion numbers was not significant. Conclusion: A clinical episode of NDCS was associated with a significant increase in HWM lesion volume, especially in the insula. We postulate this to be due to hypobaric exposure rather than hypoxia since all pilots were maintained on 100% oxygen throughout the flight. Further studies will be necessary to better understand the pathophysiology underlying these lesions.
- High altitude
- Hyperintense white matter lesions
- Neurocognitive impairment
- Neurologic decompression sickness
- U-2 pilot
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health