High-altitude exposure in patients with cardiovascular disease: risk assessment and practical recommendations

Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2010 May-Jun;52(6):512-24. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2010.03.005.


Because of the development of modern transportation facilities, an ever rising number of individuals including many patients with preexisting diseases visit high-altitude locations (>2500 m). High-altitude exposure triggers a series of physiologic responses intended to maintain an adequate tissue oxygenation. Even in normal subjects, there is enormous interindividual variability in these responses that may be further amplified by environmental factors such as cold temperature, low humidity, exercise, and stress. These adaptive mechanisms, although generally tolerated by most healthy subjects, may induce major problems in patients with preexisting cardiovascular diseases in which the functional reserves are already limited. Preexposure assessment of patients helps to minimize risk and detect contraindications to high-altitude exposure. Moreover, the great variability and nonpredictability of the adaptive response should encourage physicians counseling such patients to adapt a cautionary approach. Here, we will briefly review how high-altitude adjustments may interfere with and aggravate/decompensate preexisting cardiovascular diseases. Moreover, we will provide practical recommendations on how to investigate and counsel patients with cardiovascular disease desiring to travel to high-altitude locations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Altitude
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / prevention & control
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / prevention & control
  • Foramen Ovale, Patent / physiopathology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / physiopathology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / prevention & control
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology
  • Heart Failure / prevention & control
  • Heart Valve Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Hypertension / prevention & control
  • Mountaineering*
  • Pulmonary Circulation*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors