Hemoglobin mass and intravascular volume kinetics during and after exposure to 3,454-m altitude

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2015 Nov 15;119(10):1194-201. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01121.2014. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


High altitude (HA) exposure facilitates a rapid contraction of plasma volume (PV) and a slower occurring expansion of hemoglobin mass (Hbmass). The kinetics of the Hbmass expansion has never been examined by multiple repeated measurements, and this was our primary study aim. The second aim was to investigate the mechanisms mediating the PV contraction. Nine healthy, normally trained sea-level (SL) residents (8 males, 1 female) sojourned for 28 days at 3,454 m. Hbmass was measured and PV was estimated by carbon monoxide rebreathing at SL, on every 4th day at HA, and 1 and 2 wk upon return to SL. Four weeks at HA increased Hbmass by 5.26% (range 2.5-11.1%; P < 0.001). The individual Hbmass increases commenced with up to 12 days of delay and reached a maximal rate of 4.04 ± 1.02 g/day after 14.9 ± 5.2 days. The probability for Hbmass to plateau increased steeply after 20-24 days. Upon return to SL Hbmass decayed by -2.46 ± 2.3 g/day, reaching values similar to baseline after 2 wk. PV, aldosterone concentration, and renin activity were reduced at HA (P < 0.001) while the total circulating protein mass remained unaffected. In summary, the Hbmass response to HA exposure followed a sigmoidal pattern with a delayed onset and a plateau after ∼3 wk. The decay rate of Hbmass upon descent to SL did not indicate major changes in the rate of erythrolysis. Moreover, our data support that PV contraction at HA is regulated by the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis and not by changes in oncotic pressure.

Keywords: blood; erythropoietin; hypoxia; oxygen; plasma volume.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Adult
  • Altitude*
  • Blood Volume / physiology*
  • Erythrocyte Indices / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Hemoglobins