Football legend Joe Namath is helping bring publicity to an underutilized treatment for brain injury: hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Flooding the body with pure oxygen while the patient lies inside a pressurized chamber has been used since the 1930s to treat decompression sickness (the “bends”) that occurs when a diver resurfaces too quickly.
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In following decades, researchers discovered that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) was helpful for a host of other conditions, including brain trauma, stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, autism, and Alzheimer’s.
However, the treatment has largely failed to gain a foothold in the U.S. despite its widespread use in other countries.
“It’s the best-kept medical secret in our country,” William S. Maxfield, M.D., a pioneer of hyperbaric medicine, tells Newsmax Health.
Namath, a Hall of Fame quarterback, said HBOT has rejuvenated him.
“I sustained my share of concussions playing pro football and had recently experienced some concerns such as fatigue and decreased cognition,” said the 71-year-old New York Jet icon.
“Also, the 2012 suicide of star linebacker Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers left a lasting impression on me when I learned that it may have been caused by
chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, often a result of multiple concussions.”
Namath decided to undergo testing, which included a cognitive assessment and brain imaging, and found he suffered from traumatic brain injury.
Damage was particularly noticeable on the left side of his brain, where impacts during his football years were most severe.
Namath underwent 40 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy over a period of six months at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida. His physician, Dr. Lee Fox, said that after treatment, brain scans started to show new activity.
“The whole area of the brain just came back to life,” Dr. Fox said in an interview.
“He was feeling better. He was finding the right words.” In addition, Namath’s sleeping improved.
During HBOT, which usually takes place in a pressurized steel and acrylic tube, air pressure is slowly increased until it’s two to three times that of sea level.
As patients breathe normally, their lungs absorb increased amounts of oxygen — up to 15 times as much compared to breathing at sea level.
Super-oxygenated blood is carried throughout the body, promoting the release of growth hormones and helping the body heal.
Cells are regenerated and, in the case of those suffering from traumatic brain injury, new brain tissue is created.
“A treatment usually lasts about 90 minutes,” said Dr. Maxfield. “It takes 10 or 15 minutes to go to pressurization. The patient then breathes at optimal pressurization for an hour before pressure is slowly lowered.”
The only unusual thing most patients notice during treatment is their ears popping like they do during plane flights as the pressure increases and decreases.
“Brain injuries run a minimum of 20 treatments and average about 40,” says Dr. Maxfield.
Prices vary widely. Treatments at a specialized treatment center usually cost about $200 to $250 per session, said Dr. Maxfield.
If a condition is approved for hyperbaric treatment in the United States, it is covered by most health policies, including Medicare and Medicaid.
Approved conditions include decompression sickness, problem wounds, radiation injuries, skin grafts, carbon monoxide poisoning, and burns. Brain injuries are not approved.
Dr. Maxfield believes that many additional conditions should be approved, such as Alzheimer’s, autism, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.
“Russia is far ahead of us in this area,” he said. “Currently, 17 indications are approved in the U.S. as opposed to 73 in Russia.”
To find a hyperbaric treatment center in your area, visit hyperbariclink.com
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