The pregnant altitude visitor

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999:474:65-77. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-4711-2_5.


The human fetus develops normally under low-oxygen conditions. Exposure of a pregnant woman to the hypoxia of high altitude results in acclimatization responses which act to preserve the fetal oxygen supply. The fetus also utilizes several compensatory mechanisms to survive brief periods of hypoxia. While fetal heart rate monitoring data during air travel suggest no compromise of fetal oxygenation, exercise at high altitude may place further stress on oxygen delivery to the fetus. The limited data on maternal exercise at high altitude suggest good tolerance in most pregnancies; however, short-term abnormalities in fetal heart rate and subsequent pregnancy complications have been observed, as well. A survey of Colorado obstetrical care providers yielded consensus that preterm labor and bleeding complications of pregnancy are the most commonly encountered pregnancy complications among high-altitude pregnant visitors. Dehydration, engaging in strenuous exercise before acclimatization, and participation in activities with high risk of trauma are behaviors that may increase the risk of pregnancy complications. Medical and obstetrical conditions which impair oxygen transfer at any step between the environment and fetal tissue may compromise fetal oxygenation. Knowledge of the medical, obstetrical, and behavioral risk factors during pregnancy at high altitude can help the pregnant visitor to high altitude avoid such complications.

MeSH terms

  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology
  • Altitude*
  • Animals
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Placenta / physiology*
  • Pregnancy / physiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Travel