- Altitude sickness
Name = Altitude sickness
DiseasesDB = 8375
DiseasesDB_mult = DiseasesDB2|29615
ICD10 = ICD10|T|70|2|t|66
ICD9 = ICD9|E902.0
eMedicineSubj = med
eMedicineTopic = 3225
MeshID = D000532
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude illness, or soroche, is a pathological condition that is caused by acute exposure to low
air pressure(usually outdoors at high altitudes). It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (approximately 8,000 feet). [cite web | author=K Baillie and A Simpson | title=Acute mountain sickness| url=http://www.altitude.org/calculators/altitudefacts/altitudefacts.htm | publisher=Apex (Altitude Physiology Expeditions) | accessdate=2007-08-08 - High altitude information for laypeople] Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema( HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema( HACE). [cite web | author=AAR Thompson | title=Altitude-Sickness.org| url=http://www.altitude-sickness.org| publisher=Apex | accessdate=2007-05-08]
The cause of altitude sickness is still not understood. [ The High Altitude Medicine Handbook 3rd Edition, Andrew J Pollard and David R Murdoch.] It occurs in low atmospheric pressure conditions but not necessarily in low oxygen conditions at sea level pressure. Although treatable to some extent by the administration of oxygen, most of the symptoms do not appear to be caused by low oxygen, but rather by the low CO2 levels causing a rise in blood pH,
alkalosis. The percentage of oxygen in air remains essentially constant with altitude at 21 percent, but the air pressure (and therefore the number of oxygen molecules) drops as altitude increases. [cite web | author=K Baillie | title=Living in Thin Air| url=http://www.altitude.org/why_less_oxygen_at_altitude.htm| publisher=Apex|accessdate=2007-12-17] Altitude sickness usually does not affect persons traveling in aircraftbecause modern aircraft passenger compartments are pressurized.
A related condition,Fact|date=February 2008 occurring only after prolonged exposure to high altitude, is
chronic mountain sickness, also known as Monge's disease.
An unrelated condition, although often confused with altitude sickness, is
dehydration, due to the higher rate of water vapor lost from the lungs at higher altitudes.
High altitude or mountain sickness is defined when someone feels sick at high altitudes, such as in the mountains or any other altitude-related sicknesses. It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude-sickness as there are no specific factors that compare with this susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can climb up to 2500 meters (8000 feet) normally.
Generally, different people have different susceptibilities to altitude sickness. For some otherwise healthy people, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can begin to appear at around 2000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level, such as at many mountain ski resorts, equivalent to a pressure of 80 kPa. AMS is the most frequent type of altitude sickness encountered. Symptoms often manifest themselves 6-10 hours after ascent and generally subside in 1 to 2 days, but they occasionally develop into the more serious conditions. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, stomach illness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance. Exertion aggravates the symptoms.
High altitude pulmonary edema( HAPE) and cerebral edema ( HACE) are the most ominous of these symptoms, while AMS, retinal hemorrhage, and peripheral edema are less severe forms of the disease. The rate of ascent, altitude attained, amount of physical activity at high altitude, as well as individual susceptibility, are contributing factors to the onset and severity of high-altitude illness.
Altitude sickness usually occurs following a rapid ascent and can usually be prevented by ascending slowly. [ [http://www.high-altitude.org high-altitude.org: High Altitude Medicine ] ] In most of these cases, the symptoms are temporary and usually abate as altitude acclimatisation occurs. However, in extreme cases, altitude sickness can be fatal.
The word "soroche" came from
South Americaand originally meant " ore", because of an old, incorrect belief that it was caused by toxic emanations of ores in the Andesmountains. [http://cancerweb.ncl.ac.uk/cgi-bin/omd?soroche]
igns and symptoms
Headacheis a primary symptom used to diagnose altitude sickness, although headache is also a symptom of dehydration. A headache occurring at an altitude above 2,400 meters (8000 feet = 76 kPa), combined with any one or more of the following symptoms, can indicate altitude sickness:
* Lack of appetite,
nausea, or vomiting
* Fatigue or weakness
Pins and needles
* Shortness of breath upon exertion
* Persistent rapid pulse
Peripheral edema(swelling of hands, feet, and face).
Symptoms that may indicate life-threatening altitude sickness include:
pulmonary edema(fluid in the lungs):-
** persistent dry cough
** shortness of breath even when resting
cerebral edema(swelling of the brain):-
** headache that does not respond to analgesics
** unsteady gait
** increased vomiting
** gradual loss of consciousness.
The most serious symptoms of altitude sickness are due to
edema(fluid accumulation in the tissues of the body). At very high altitude, humans can get either high altitude pulmonary edema(HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema(HACE). The physiological cause of altitude-induced edema is not conclusively established. It is currently believed, however, that HACE is caused by local vasodilation of cerebral blood vessels in response to hypoxia, resulting in greater blood flow and, consequently, greater capillary pressures. On the other hand, HAPE may be due to general vasoconstriction in the pulmonary circulation (normally a response to regional ventilation-perfusion mismatches) which, with constant or increased cardiac output, also leads to increases in capillary pressures. For those suffering HACE, dexamethasonemay provide temporary relief from symptoms in order to keep descending under their own power.
HAPE occurs in ~2% of those who are adjusting to altitudes of ~3000 m (10,000 feet = 70 kPa) or more. It can progress rapidly and is often fatal. Symptoms include fatigue, severe
dyspneaat rest, and cough that is initially dry but may progress to produce pink, frothy sputum. Descent to lower altitudes alleviates the symptoms of HAPE.
HACE is a life threatening condition that can lead to coma or death. It occurs in about 1% of people adjusting to altitudes above ~2700 m (9,000 feet = 73 kPa). Symptoms include headache, fatigue, visual impairment, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, loss of coordination, paralysis on one side of the body, and confusion. Descent to lower altitudes may save those afflicted with HACE.
Avoiding alcohol ingestion
As alcohol tends to dehydrate, avoidance in the first 24 hours at a higher altitude is optimal.
People with recurrent AMS note that by avoiding strenuous activity such as skiing, hiking, etc in the first 24 hours at altitude reduces their problems.
Altitude acclimatisation is the process of adjusting to decreasing
oxygenlevels at higher elevations, in order to avoid altitude sickness. Once above approximately 3,000 meters (10,000 feet = 70 kPa), most climbers and high altitude trekkers follow the "golden rule" - climb high, sleep low.cite journal |title=Influence of Moderate Altitude Residence on Arterial Oxygen Saturation at Higher Altitudes. |year=2003 |author=Muza, SR; Rock, PB; Zupan, M; Miller, J; Thomas, WR |journal=US Army Research Inst. of Environmental Medicine Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division Technical Report |issue=USARIEM/TMMD-T03-1 |url=http://archive.rubicon-foundation.org/7606 |accessdate=2008-09-30 ] For high altitude climbers, a typical acclimatization regime might be to stay a few days at a base camp, climb up to a higher camp (slowly), then return to base camp. A subsequent climb to the higher camp would then include an overnight stay. This process is then repeated a few times, each time extending the time spent at higher altitudes to let the body adjust to the oxygen level there, a process that involves the production of additional red blood cells. Once the climber has acclimatised to a given altitude, the process is repeated with camps placed at progressively higher elevations. The general rule of thumb is to not ascend more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) per day to sleep. That is, one can climb from 3,000 (10,000 feet = 70 kPa) to 4,500 metres (15,000 feet = 58 kPa) in one day, but one should then descend back to 3,300 metres (11,000 feet = 67.5 kPa) to sleep. This process cannot safely be rushed, and this explains why climbers need to spend days (or even weeks at times) acclimatising before attempting to climb a high peak. Simulated altitude equipment that produce hypoxic (reduced oxygen) air can be used to acclimate to altitude, reducing the total time required on the mountain itself.
Altitude acclimatization is necessary for some people who rapidly move from lower altitudes to more moderate altitudes, usually by aircraft and ground transportation over a few hours, such as from sea level to 7000 feet of many Colorado, USA mountain resorts. Stopping at an intermediate altitude overnight can reduce or eliminate a repeat episode of AMS.
Acetazolamidemay help some people to speed up the acclimatisation process when taken before arriving at altitude, and can treat mild cases of altitude sickness. A typical dose is 250mg twice daily starting the day before moving to altitude.
randomized controlled trialfound that sumatriptanmay help prevent altitude sickness.cite journal |author=Jafarian S, Gorouhi F, Salimi S, Lotfi J |title=Sumatriptan for prevention of acute mountain sickness: randomized clinical trial |journal=Ann. Neurol. |volume=62 |issue=3 |pages=273–7 |year=2007 |pmid=17557349 |doi=10.1002/ana.21162]
indigenous cultures of the
Altiplano, such as the Aymaras, have used cocaleaves to treat mild altitude sickness.
In high-altitude conditions, oxygen enrichment can counteract the effects of altitude sickness, or hypoxia. A small amount of supplemental oxygen reduces the equivalent altitude in climate-controlled rooms. At 3,400 m (67 kPa), raising the oxygen concentration level by 5 percent via an
oxygen concentratorand an existing ventilation system provides an effective altitude of 3,000 m (70 kPa), which is more tolerable for surface-dwellers. [West, John B. (1995), "Oxygen Enrichment of Room Air to Relieve the Hypoxia of High Altitude", "Respiration Physiology" 99(2):230.] The most effective source of supplemental oxygen at high altitude are oxygen concentrators that use vacuum swing adsorption(VSA) technology.POV-statement|date=December 2007 As opposed to generators that use pressure swing adsorption(PSA), VSA technology does not suffer from performance degradation at increased altitude. The lower air density actually facilitates the vacuum step process.
Drinking plenty of water will also help in acclimatisationcite book
last = Dannen
first = Kent
coauthors = Dannen, Donna
title = Rocky Mountain National Park
publisher = Globe Pequot
year = 2002
pages = 9
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=txzevi145t8C&pg=PA9&dq=%22drinking+plenty+of+water%22+%22altitude+sickness%22&sig=S8HVuMeBMouac2Ag9vL9Kd-41gc
isbn = 0762722452
quote = Visitors unaccustomed to high elevations may experience symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) [...s] uggestions for alleviating symptoms include drinking plenty of water [.] ] to replace the fluids lost through heavier breathing in the thin, dry air found at altitude, although consuming excessive quantities ("over-hydration") has no benefits and may lead to
Oxygen from gas bottles or liquid containers can be applied directly via a nasal cannula or mask. Oxygen concentrators based upon PSA, VSA, or
VPSAcan be used to generate the oxygen if electricity is available. Stationary oxygen concentrators typically use PSA technology, which has performance degradations at the lower barometric pressures at high altitudes. One way to compensate for the performance degradation is to utilize a concentrator with more flow capacity. There are also portable oxygen concentrators that can be used on vehicle DC power or on internal batteries, and at least one system commercially available measures and compensates for the altitude effect on its performance up to 4,000 meters (13,123 feet). The application of high-purity oxygen from one of these methods increases the partial pressure of oxygen by raising the FIO2(fraction of inspired oxygen).
The only reliable treatment and in many cases the only option available is to descend. Attempts to treat or stabilise the patient in situ at altitude is dangerous unless highly controlled and with good medical facilities. However, the following treatments have been used when the patient's location and circumstances permit:
* Oxygen may be used for mild to moderate AMS below 12,000 feet and is commonly provided by physicians at mountain resorts. Symptoms abate in 12-36 hours without the need to descend.
* For more serious cases of AMS, or where rapid descent is impractical, a
Gamow bag, a portable plastic pressure bag inflated with a foot pump, can be used to reduce the effective altitude by as much as 1,500 meters (5,000 feet). A Gamow bag is generally used only as an aid to evacuate severe AMS patients not to treat them at altitude.
Acetazolamidemay assist in altitude aclimatisation but is not a reliable treatment for established cases of even mild altitude sickness. [Cain, SM, Dunn JE, 2nd. Low doses of acetazolamide to aid accommodation of men to altitude. J Appl Physiol 1966; 21:1195] [ Grissom, CK, Roach, RC, Sarnquist, FH, Hackett, PH. Acetazolamide in the treatment of acute mountain sickness: Clinical efficacy and effect on gas exchange. Ann Intern Med 1992; 116:461]
* Some claim that mild altitude sickness can be controlled by consciously taking 10-12 large, rapid breaths every 5 minutes, (
hyperventilation) but this claim lacks both empirical evidence and a plausible medical reason as to why this should be effective.Fact|date=October 2007 If overdone, this can remove too much carbon dioxide causing hypocapnia.
* The folk remedy for altitude sickness in
Ecuador, Peruand Boliviais a tea made from the coca plant. See mate de coca.
* Other treatments include injectable
steroidsto reduce pulmonary edema, this may buy time to descend but treats a symptom, it does not treat the underlying AMS.
High altitude pulmonary edema
High altitude cerebral edema
* [http://www.altitudemedicine.org. Information on high altitude medicine from the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride, Colorado.]
* [http://www.ismmed.org/np_altitude_tutorial.htm The tutorial on altitude illness from the International Society for Mountain Medicine]
* [http://www.merck.com/pubs/mmanual/section20/chapter281/281a.htm Merck Manual entry on altitude sickness]
* [http://www.altitudeclinic.com High Altitude Pathology Institute]
* [http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/vol29/vol29n30/n1.html University of Buffalo Reporter article on research into the cause of altitude sickness]
* [http://www.mountainsickness.org Mountain sickness]
* [http://www.basecampmd.com/expguide/highalt.shtml Base Camp MD: Guide To High Altitude Medicine]
* [http://www.high-altitude-medicine.com/AMS-medical.html Altitude Illness Clinical Guide for Physicians]
* [http://www.itg.be/itg/Uploads/MedServ/ealtitude.pdf General information about Altitude sickness by the Prince Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine]
* [http://www.altitude.org/calculators/oxygencalculator/oxygencalculator.htm An online calculator to show the effects of high altitude on oxygen delivery]
* [http://www.csgnetwork.com/pressurealtcalc.html An online calculator to compute altitude from air pressure]
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