Obesity: associations with acute mountain sickness

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Aug 19;139(4):253-7. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-139-4-200308190-00007.


Background: Although few retrospective studies of high altitude have reported that obesity might be associated with the development of acute mountain sickness (AMS), this association has not been studied prospectively.

Objective: To determine whether obesity is associated with the development of AMS.

Design: Obese and nonobese men were compared at a simulated altitude of 3658 m (12 000 ft).

Setting: 24 hours in a hypobaric environmental chamber.

Participants: 9 obese and 10 nonobese men.

Measurements: Percentage body fat (by hydrostatic weighing), Lake Louise AMS score, and Sao2 level (by pulse oximetry) were measured.

Results: Average AMS scores increased more rapidly with time spent at simulated high altitudes for obese men than for nonobese men (P < 0.001). The response of Sao2 with exposure differed between nonobese and obese men. After 24 hours in the altitude chamber, seven obese men (78%) and four nonobese men (40%) had AMS scores of 4 or more.

Conclusion: Obesity seems to be associated with the development of AMS, which may be partly related to greater nocturnal desaturation with altitude exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altitude Sickness / blood
  • Altitude Sickness / complications*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Oxygen