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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis, Hope or Hoax?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and MS

A recent article in appearing in a UK news source reported on the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis, a treatment that has its share of skeptics as well as advocates. The article highlights the question as to whether this form of natural therapy offers hope to MSers or is it a hoax.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment approach that involves breathing pure oxygen while being present in a pressurized room or chamber. Although it is a well-known way to treat scuba divers who experience decompression sickness, it also has been used to wounds that are slow to heal, infections, severe anemia, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, and radiation injury.

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The idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy is that damaged tissues need more oxygen than healthy tissue to be restored and survive. Intake of a high level of oxygen (up to three times greater than normal air pressure) helps trigger stem cells and growth factors, which in turn support natural healing.

Evidence that oxygen therapy can benefit MS or some other conditions such as arthritis, autism, cancer, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ulcers, or stroke is not as convincing. That does not mean, however, that researchers are not exploring these possibilities and that some patients are not trying and getting some good results from this treatment.

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the UK
A case in point is the presence of more than 60 MS treatment facilities in England and Ireland that offer a variety of therapeutic options, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy. According to Brendan Hilton, a 32-year-old who was diagnosed with MS about seven years ago, oxygen therapy has improved his symptoms, including sleep problems and fatigue.

Hilton is not unrealistic about what oxygen therapy can do. He stated in an Express article that “It’s not a cure but I’ve no doubt that it helps.” He notices the difference in how he feels if he misses one of his weekly sessions and believes that “when you have an incurable condition anything that works for you has to be worth it.”

According to Petra Kliempt, coordinator for MS Therapy Centres, this therapy “helps against infection and the inflammation caused by MS.” The oxygen is delivered at twice the normal atmospheric pressure in the UK centers.

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Although many researchers are still skeptical about the benefit of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for MS (see below), Kliempt explained that there are “clear benefits and no side effects. I have not encountered any MS patients who report no improvement and for some it is dramatic.”

What the research says
The scientific evidence to support the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, however, is not as positive. A 2010 review of the results of 12 randomized studies on the use of this natural therapy for MS found “no clinically significant benefit” from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

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The majority of the studies compared use of the treatment against placebo and involved 20 treatments administered at pressures between 1.75 ATA and 2.5 ATA (atmospheres absolute) daily for one to two hours over four weeks. In an earlier (2004) review, the authors reported on nine trials and found that two of them produced positive results while the remaining seven did not.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared hyperbaric oxygen chambers (which are considered medical devices) for treatment of 13 conditions, and MS is not one of them. In fact, Nayan Patel, a biomedical engineer in the FDA’s Anesthesiology Devices Branch explains on the FDA website that “Patients may incorrectly believe that these devices have been proven safe and effective for uses not cleared by FDA, which may cause them to delay or forego proven medical therapies.”

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Do you have any experience with this treatment approach? Can hyperbaric oxygen therapy offer any hope for MSers or is it a hoax?

Bennett M, Heard R. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis. CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics 2010 Apr; 16(2): 115-24
Bennett M, Heard R. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for multiple sclerosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004; (1):CD003057
Express UK
Food and Drug Administration

Image: Asalmedia/Wikimedia



There are 56000 ER visits and 26000 hospitalisations with 458 deaths , 100 unintentional in the US due to Paracetomal overdose and the FDA after 30 years of dithering , still have no policy. There have been no deaths in the US due mask delivered HBOT. In the UK three million treatment over 30 years have helped MS sufferers with their symptoms. If they didn't help the they would have closed down long ago. How the FDA can continue this alarmist crusade , beggars belief unless there are ulterior motives.
I have personally worked with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for the last six years. The article states that HBOT is not a miracle cure but any improvement helps and people feel better after using it. I would not be in this career if I didn't believe in it 100%. After being part of changing so many lives nothing will convince me otherwise. :) Anything is better than drugs especially when the side effects are minimal.
Sarah: Thank you for your comments. You did not mention where you work or whether you have worked with people who have MS. Thanks for helping so many people feel better!
Have had Ms 22 yrs, one of my greatest symptoms is crushing sensation in legs and severely in feet. I describe it to people as feeling what the bends must feel like!! It has worsened over the years!! I would love love to try HBOT and I have made inquiries to Dr over the yrs but have never gotten a knowledgeable response. But I know how well this treats the bends and as far as I'm concerned it is if that is what I have. It's a horrible sensation and I will never forget an exacerbation I had for 3 months where it literally felt like an elephant was sitting on my lower legs and especially feet + I felt I was going insane. A nurse friend said I need general anesthesia till it passed, I cried cuz she really understood + saw + felt my pain!!
Mary, Hyperbaric oxygen may or may not help you, but I hope you can find a knowledgeable professional who can consult with you about it. My best wishes
i have ms been diag 4 year now have been goin for hbo every week to my local revive ms centre i did not think it was helping bur when i missed a week i did feel it it has helped with bladder issues no more getting up in the night for loo in sleeping pretty good in that itself makes you feel good i go to my local revive .centre in Maryhill in thats wer i found out about it had to get my doctor to okay me fit to go for this .treatment if hadnt been for revive i would never have known about this in im willing to try anything that would help me with my quality of life
I am glad to hear hyperbaric oxygen therapy is helping with your quality of life. Thank you for sharing your experience with it, as it may help other MSers who are thinking about trying this therapeutic approach.