Strengthening Altitude Knowledge: A Delphi Study to Define Minimum Knowledge of Altitude Illness for Laypersons Traveling to High Altitude

High Alt Med Biol. 2022 Dec;23(4):330-337. doi: 10.1089/ham.2022.0083. Epub 2022 Oct 6.


Berendsen, Remco R., Peter Bärtsch, Buddha Basnyat, Marc Moritz Berger, Peter Hackett, Andrew M. Luks, Jean-Paul Richalet, Ken Zafren, Bengt Kayser, and the STAK Plenary Group. Strengthening altitude knowledge: a Delphi study to define minimum knowledge of altitude illness for laypersons traveling to high altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 23:330-337, 2022. Introduction: A lack of knowledge among laypersons about the hazards of high-altitude exposure contributes to morbidity and mortality from acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) among high-altitude travelers. There are guidelines regarding the recognition, prevention, and treatment of acute-altitude illness for experts, but essential knowledge for laypersons traveling to high altitudes has not been defined. We sought expert consensus on the essential knowledge required for people planning to travel to high altitudes. Methods: The Delphi method was used. The panel consisted of two moderators, a core expert group and a plenary expert group. The moderators made a preliminary list of statements defining the desired minimum knowledge for laypersons traveling to high altitudes, based on the relevant literature. These preliminary statements were then reviewed, supplemented, and modified by a core expert group. A list of 33 statements was then presented to a plenary group of experts in successive rounds. Results: It took three rounds to reach a consensus. Of the 10 core experts invited, 7 completed all the rounds. Of the 76 plenary experts, 41 (54%) participated in Round 1, and of these 41 a total of 32 (78%) experts completed all three rounds. The final list contained 28 statements in 5 categories (altitude physiology, sleeping at altitude, AMS, HACE, and HAPE). This list represents an expert consensus on the desired minimum knowledge for laypersons planning high-altitude travel. Conclusion: Using the Delphi method, the STrengthening Altitude Knowledge initiative yielded a set of 28 statements representing essential learning objectives for laypersons who plan to travel to high altitudes. This list could be used to develop educational interventions.

Keywords: acclimatization; acute mountain sickness; altitude illness; education; expeditions to high altitude; laypersons; trekking.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Altitude
  • Altitude Sickness* / prevention & control
  • Brain Edema*
  • Delphi Technique
  • Humans

Supplementary concepts

  • Pulmonary edema of mountaineers