Study objectives: To describe a group of patients who acquired pulmonary edema at a moderate altitude of 1,400 to 2,400 m.
Design: Observational, retrospective chart review (1992-2000) of a series of 52 consecutive patients admitted for high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) that occurred at 1,400 to 2,400 m.
Setting: Emergency department of a community hospital in the French Alps (altitude, 500 m).
Patients: Vacationing skiers who met criteria for altitude-related pulmonary edema, and in whom other causes (infectious, cardiogenic, neurogenic, and toxic) were excluded.
Measurements and results: All patients presented with signs of pulmonary edema. Diagnoses of infectious, cardiogenic, neurogenic, or toxic edema were ruled out in each patient. All patients were hypoxemic and had radiographic signs of pulmonary edema. Virtually all patients (96%) had dyspnea, and most (77%) had moist rales. All patients were treated with supplemental oxygen (3 to 12 L/min), bed rest, moderate fluid restriction, and continuous positive airway pressure. All recovered fully and were discharged after 4 +/- 2 days (mean +/- SD).
Conclusion: This study suggests that HAPE at moderate altitudes is more frequent than usually reported. Patients are likely to be young, vacationing men, with no history of prior disease. The disease has a favorable prognosis, and requires simple treatment and a short hospital stay.