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Health conditions among Navy divers at end of service: a retrospective cohort study

Purpose: To identify the most prevalent health conditions among divers during their last year of Navy service.

Methods: For this retrospective descriptive study we used data from the Dive Jump Reporting System to identify 4,623 active-duty divers who separated between 2008 and 2018. Medical records, dive histories, and personnel files were merged, linked and analyzed at the individual level.

Results: On average, 420 divers separated each year. Among the separating divers, 99% were male, 26% were aged 25 to 29 years old with a mean age of 35 (SD = 9, range 18 to 65). The major medical categories with the highest numbers of divers affected were: musculoskeletal system diseases (prevalence rate (PR) = 515.2 per 1,000 divers/year); nervous system (PR = 411.9); injury and poisonings (PR = 249.8); and mental disorders (PR = 237.3). Of the 50 specific conditions that affected the most divers the top four were joint disorders (PR = 34.5), disorders of refraction and accommodation (PR = 30.1), back disorders (PR = 26.8) and organic sleep disorders (PR = 21.6). Compared to divers with fewer than 29 dives, divers with 49-plus dives were about twice as likely to have diagnoses related to symptoms involving head and neck.

Conclusions: The study found high rates of conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, joint and back disorders, and some mental health related disorders. Special warfare divers have high rates of hearing loss, and other disorders of ear. The results show the need and to develop and implement group-specific mitigation programs.