High altitude cerebral edema

High Alt Med Biol. Summer 2004;5(2):136-46. doi: 10.1089/1527029041352054.


This review focuses on the epidemiology, clinical description, pathophysiology, treatment, and prevention of high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). HACE is an uncommon and sometimes fatal complication of traveling too high, too fast to high altitudes. HACE is distinguished by disturbances of consciousness that may progress to deep coma, psychiatric changes of varying degree, confusion, and ataxia of gait. It is most often a complication of acute mountain sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema. The current leading theory of its pathophysiology is that HACE is a vasogenic edema; that is, a disruption of the blood-brain barrier, and we review possible mechanisms to explain this. Treatment and prevention of HACE are similar to those for the other altitude illnesses, but with greater emphasis on descent and steroids. We conclude the review with several case histories to illustrate key clinical features of the disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetazolamide / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Altitude Sickness / complications*
  • Altitude Sickness / diagnosis
  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology
  • Altitude Sickness / therapy
  • Brain Edema / diagnosis
  • Brain Edema / etiology*
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Brain Edema / therapy
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Consciousness Disorders / etiology
  • Female
  • Gait Ataxia / etiology
  • Headache / etiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurologic Examination / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors
  • Steroids
  • Acetazolamide