Women represent fully half of active divers in our sport today (some surveys show that there may even be more women diving than men), but issues that pertain to women’s health and safety in the water are rarely publicized. Refresh yourself on some of the most common gender-specific questions and do your part to make the diving community safer and better educated.
While there has been no evidence found that the use of oral contraceptives increases a diver’s risk of DCS, it may slightly elevate the risk of clotting conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Research indicates that oral contraceptive pill (OCP) use can increase the risk of a thromboembolic event like a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke, and that risk is exacerbated by risk factors like a sedentary lifestyle and smoking. While these events may be somewhat manageable on dry land, they can cause serious issues in the water. OCP use is generally accepted as safe for divers, but it is recommended that individuals using OCP in particular refrain from smoking and exercise regularly to reduce their risk of clotting conditions that could cause injuries during a dive.
Diving After Pregnancy
Recommendations for returning to diving after childbirth vary based on the type of delivery. After a typical delivery without complications a woman can generally resume diving in about 21 days. This allows time for the cervix to close and limits the risk of infection. Uncomplicated cesarean sections generally require 8 to 12 weeks of recovery before diving to limit infection risk and allow the other to regain cardiovascular fitness. If a woman is put on bed rest due to complications of the pregnancy, it is prudent to refrain from diving for more than 12 weeks because of the loss of strength and aerobic capacity. Following a miscarriage, a woman can return to diving as soon as a physician releases her for full and unrestricted activity.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that women receive a bone density test if they have broken a bone after 50, are menopausal or postmenopausal with risk factors, or are older than 65. The recommendations include a significant portion of both divers and potential divers, and the condition should not be overlooked. Osteoporosis is not a contraindication for diving, but women who have the condition or severe bone loss should consider donning equipment in the water and adapting their diving to reduce the risk of fractures and falls. Avoiding wearing heavy dive gear out of the water, carrying tanks on land, and hazardous shore entries are good precautions for divers who may have compromised bone health.
Once sufficient time has passed after a breast augmentation or reconstructive surgery a diver may resume diving without increased risk. Divers with implants may experience minor buoyancy and trim changes following their surgery, and should avoid constrictive chest straps that may increase the likelihood of implant rupture, but otherwise have no reason to be concerned. Breast implants do not pose a problem to diving from the standpoint of gas absorption or change in size, and do not represent a contraindication to diving.
For more information on health and diving, review DAN’s Health Resources on DAN.org.