Background: Pulmonary hypertension has not been described as a predisposing risk factor for high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) in children. Previous studies have shown an association of HAPE with abnormally increased pulmonary vasoreactivity to hypoxia but generally normal pulmonary artery pressure (PAP) after recovery.
Objective: To describe HAPE of relatively rapid onset and its management in a series of children residing at moderate to high altitudes, all of whom had underlying pulmonary hypertension.
Methods and results: From 1997 to 2003, 30 children came to our center with high-altitude illness. Of these, 10 children (aged 4-18 years; male-female ratio, 8:2) living at moderate to high altitudes (1610-3050 m) underwent cardiac catheterization after recovery from HAPE, and all were found to have chronic pulmonary hypertension (mean PAP, 38 +/- 9 mm Hg; pulmonary vascular resistance, 8.6 +/- 2.8 U x m2). Increases in PAP and pulmonary vascular resistance to hypoxia (16% oxygen) suggest that these children have a reactive pulmonary pressor response and hence are susceptible to HAPE. Six of the 10 patients had predisposing cardiopulmonary abnormalities, and 5 of these 6 patients did not receive a diagnosis prior to the onset of HAPE. Long-term treatment with calcium channel blockers, bosentan, sildenafil citrate, and/or oxygen lowered PAP, improved symptoms, and prevented the recurrence of HAPE.
Conclusion: Children living at altitude who develop HAPE should undergo screening for diagnosis of underlying cardiopulmonary abnormalities including pulmonary hypertension.