Hyperbaric oxygen is one form of oxygen therapy thought to be effective for treating many diseases. Some claim that it is beneficial for treating MS. These claims are, unfortunately, unsubstantiated.
In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a person is put into a specially designed chamber. Inside the chamber, the person breathes oxygen under increased pressure. By delivering the oxygen at increased pressure, blood oxygen levels are increased and oxygen delivery to body tissues is increased. These increased oxygen levels are claimed to be therapeutic for many medical conditions.
Evaluation in MS and Other Conditions
In 1983, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that hyperbaric oxygen therapy produced benefits for people with MS. Seventeen people with MS were treated with hyperbaric oxygen in this study. Improvement was observed in 12 people. Long-lasting improvements were noted in five. Some work in animals has produced similar findings, with hyperbaric oxygen protecting against an experimental form of MS.
Despite the initial positive findings, seven studies since then have not shown consistent benefits. Some suggested a mild improvement in bladder function. In 1995, a review of all research of this therapy in MS concluded that hyperbaric oxygen should not be used to treat MS. Another review, published in 2004, found no consistent evidence of benefit and concluded it should not be used routinely. These researchers also suggested that hyperbaric oxygen treatment for MS did not warrant further investigation.
Hyperbaric oxygen is accepted as an effective treatment for several medical conditions, including burns, severe infections, tissue injury from radiation, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, and air bubbles in the blood stream.
Hyperbaric oxygen is generally well tolerated. Sometimes, mild, reversible visual changes occur. In rare cases, serious adverse reactions may occur. These changes include pressure injuries in the ear, collapsed lungs, cataracts, and seizures.
Hyperbaric oxygen is very expensive and time intensive. Serious side effects are possible. Furthermore, there is no consistent evidence supporting its use in MS. In fact, multiple studies have concluded that it not an effective treatment.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos, 2007, pp. 156-158.
Bennett M, Heard R. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004;(1):CD003057.
Kleijnen J, Knipschild P. Hyperbaric oxygen for multiple sclerosis: review of controlled trials. Acta Neurol Scand 1995;91:330–334.
Tibbles PM, Edelsberg JS. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. N Engl J Med 1996;334:1642–1648.