Ataxia: an early indicator in high altitude cerebral edema

High Alt Med Biol. 2006 Winter;7(4):275-80. doi: 10.1089/ham.2006.7.275.


Wu, Tianyi, Shouquan Ding, Jinliang Liu, Jianhou Jia, Ruichen Dai, Baozhu Liang, Jizhui Zhao, and Detang Qi. Ataxia: an early indicator in high altitude cerebral edema. High Alt. Med. Biol. 7:275-280, 2006.--As a result of industrial development in the western region of China, in 2001 the Chinese government decided to build Qinghai-Tibetan Railway. The new railroad stretches 1118 km from Golmud (2808 m) to Lhasa (3658 m), with more than three-quarter of the distance above 4000 m, through the Mt. Kun Lun and Tanggula ranges. From the beginning of the project on June, 29, 2001, to the end of the year of 2003, about 74,735 construction workers worked in the harsh climate, in adverse circumstances and a low-barometric-pressure environment. The construction provided an opportunity for the investigation and study of acute mountain sickness (AMS), high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). These altitude illnesses were very common in the construction workers. From July 1, 2001, to October 31, 2003, the overall incidence of AMS, HAPE, and HACE in the total workers was approximately 45%-95%, 0.49%, and 0.26%, respectively. Altitude illnesses were studied at two hospitals near the construction site. One hospital is located on the Fenghuoshan (Mt. Wind-gap) at an altitude of 4779 m (PB 428 torr), and the second hospital is situated in the Kekexili area at an altitude of 4505 m (PB 440 torr). Kekexili is a sparsely populated zone because the weather conditions are very bad all year round. These two hospitals received patients from the construction sites, where workers were working at altitudes between 4464 and 4905 m. A total of 8014 workers were treated at Fenghuoshan and 5488 were in Kekexili over the past 3 years. According to local guidance about proper medical care, workers ascending to high altitude should be examined physically, complete an AMS questionnaire, and be monitored for ataxia as an early warning sign of the impending, more serious aspects of HACE. The onset of HACE is frequently characterized by an ataxic gait, as reported since the middle of the 20th century (Gray et al., 1971; Wilson, 1973; Houston and Dickinson, 1975; Dickinson, 1979; Clarke, 1988; Hackett and Oelz, 1992; Hackett, 2002; Hackett and Roach, 2004). However, there are no detailed analyses of ataxia in HACE. This paper considers the relation between ataxia and HACE and its frequency, significance, and importance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altitude
  • Altitude Sickness / diagnosis
  • Altitude Sickness / epidemiology*
  • Ataxia / epidemiology*
  • Atmospheric Pressure
  • Brain Edema / diagnosis
  • Brain Edema / epidemiology*
  • Causality
  • China / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / epidemiology
  • Hypoxia, Brain / epidemiology
  • Intracranial Pressure
  • Occupational Diseases / diagnosis
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Pulmonary Edema / epidemiology*
  • Railroads*