Acute mountain sickness: pathophysiology, prevention, and treatment

Prog Cardiovasc Dis. May-Jun 2010;52(6):467-84. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2010.02.003.

Abstract

Barometric pressure falls with increasing altitude and consequently there is a reduction in the partial pressure of oxygen resulting in a hypoxic challenge to any individual ascending to altitude. A spectrum of high altitude illnesses can occur when the hypoxic stress outstrips the subject's ability to acclimatize. Acute altitude-related problems consist of the common syndrome of acute mountain sickness, which is relatively benign and usually self-limiting, and the rarer, more serious syndromes of high-altitude cerebral edema and high-altitude pulmonary edema. A common feature of acute altitude illness is rapid ascent by otherwise fit individuals to altitudes above 3000 m without sufficient time to acclimatize. The susceptibility of an individual to high-altitude syndromes is variable but generally reproducible. Prevention of altitude-related illness by slow ascent is the best approach, but this is not always practical. The immediate management of serious illness requires oxygen (if available) and descent of more than 300 m as soon as possible. In this article, we describe the setting and clinical features of acute mountain sickness and high-altitude cerebral edema, including an overview of the known pathophysiology, and explain contemporary practices for both prevention and treatment exploring the comprehensive evidence base for the various interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Acute Disease
  • Altitude
  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Altitude Sickness / prevention & control
  • Altitude Sickness / therapy*
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Brain Edema / prevention & control
  • Brain Edema / therapy
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Mountaineering*
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy
  • Pulmonary Edema / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Edema / prevention & control
  • Pulmonary Edema / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome

Substances

  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors