I will be posting commentary on different aspects of hyperbaric medicine, especially about the use of hyperbaric oxygen to treat neurologic injury and disease. But, any medical issue I find interesting in hyperbaric medicine will probably find its way into this space, sooner or later. Whether you live here in the Atlanta area or elsewhere, please feel free to post questions, comments or other remarks. I will do my best to answer questions and, if I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find someone who does. I started Atlanta Hyperbaric in 1987, so I have a lot of clinical experience in hyperbaric medicine to draw on. I hope we’ll get some good discussions going and learn something at the same time.
I want to start out taking a look at a recent study on the use of hyperbaric oxygen to treat patients with autism. Dr. Rossignol and his associates in Melbourne, Florida collected 62 patients with autism into a randomized, controlled, double blind trial to see if hyperbaric oxygen is of benefit to these kids. The treatment protocol Dr. Rossignol chose was a little different than what we customarily use at Atlanta Hyperbaric to treat our brain injury patients—we use the protocol that the late Dr. Richard Neubauer, the great pioneer of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for brain injuries, developed—however, I think that Dr. Rossignol’s conclusions are applicable to our patients at Atlanta Hyperbaric.
Immediately after completing 40 one-hour hyperbaric treatments delivered over a four-week time frame, the hyperbaric oxygen treatment group showed statistical improvements in a variety of clinical areas compared to the control group, including measures of irritability, hyperactivity, speech and cognitive awareness.
What does Dr. Rossignol’s study prove? Although it is easy to carp at the relatively small number of patients, the lack of follow up and the placebo response, it is not so easy to dismiss the statistically significant differences between the hyperbaric oxygen treatment and placebo groups. Besides, other available double-blind studies in autism treatment suffer from the identical kinds of problems as Dr. Rossignol’s–this study is at least as well designed as any other in autism that I have seen. It is extremely difficult or maybe even impossible to fund and conduct an ideal double-blind study in autism.
Hyperbaric oxygen is a treatment known to improve brain blood flow by stimulating the growth of new blood vessels into areas of reduced blood flow. Other researchers have shown with SPECT and PET scans that the bulk of autistic children have low blood flow in the areas of the brain believed to be responsible for the behavioral manifestations. Because conventional treatment of autism is supportive, rather than curative, I believe Dr. Rossignol’s study is important. And, the new blood vessels that hyperbaric oxygen stimulates are believed to be permanent, so the potential of hyperbaric oxygen is that it can permanently improve symptoms in autistic children. To me, that’s exciting.
Glenn L. Goodhart, M.D., J.D.