The Heart & Diving

The Heart & Diving


There are a number of drugs that can be used to lower hypertension (which is also referred to as high blood pressure). Their side effects vary, so some are more suited than others for use by divers.

Beta Blockers

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed to treat hypertension, but they have a big drawback for divers: They can reduce the heart's capacity for exercise. If a medication restricts the heart's function during exercise, then there is an increased risk of loss of consciousness, which could prove fatal while diving.

Because of this effect, doctors often recommend that those who take beta blockers undergo a stress test before diving. According to Dr. Alfred Bove, a dive-medicine specialist, divers who take beta blockers but who can achieve a strenuous level of exercise without severe fatigue can be cleared for diving. Bove also points out that although diving does not usually represent the maximum workload on an individual's heart, anyone who takes beta blockers should avoid extreme exercise because their maximum exercise capacity may be reduced.

ACE Inhibitors

Drugs known as ACE (angiotension-converting enzyme) inhibitors have less effect on exercise capacity than beta blockers, so many doctors prescribe them for people who exercise frequently. But although ACE inhibitors seem to have fewer adverse effects, they can lead to a cough or to airway swelling — conditions that could cause severe problems underwater. If a cough related to ACE-inhibitor use persists, many physicians will recommend a different medication. ACE inhibitors should also be avoided by anyone with kidney disease.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers don't typically pose problems for divers; they relax the walls of the blood vessels, reducing resistance to the flow of blood and thus lowering blood pressure. However, some individuals who take calcium channel blockers, especially in moderate doses, find that a change of position from sitting or lying down to standing causes a drop in blood pressure and thus momentary dizziness. This effect may be cause for concern in divers, but calcium channel blockers appear to have no other adverse implications for diving.


Diuretics reduce the amount of excess water and salt in the body; the decline in the volume of bodily fluids results in a lowering of the blood pressure. Divers seem to have very little trouble with diuretics, although in very warm environments, they may cause excessive water loss and thus dehydration. Because dehydration seems to contribute to the risk of decompression sickness, divers may want to reduce their diuretic dosage on days that they engage in diving — though they should check with their doctor before doing so.