Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine   Official publication of Indian Association of  0ccupational  Health  
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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 14  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 6-12

High-altitude medicine

1 Department of Physiology, Medical College, Baroda, India
2 Occupational Health Consultant, Baroda Textile Effects Limited, Baroda, India

Correspondence Address:
Swapnil J Paralikar
18, Taksh Bungalows, Near Shobhana Nagar, Vasna Road, Baroda - 390 021
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5278.64608

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Sojourns to high altitude have become common for recreation and adventure purposes. In most individuals, gradual ascent to a high altitude leads to a series of adaptive changes in the body, termed as acclimatization. These include changes in the respiratory, cardiovascular, hematologic systems and cellular adaptations that enhance oxygen delivery to the tissues and augment oxygen uptake. Thus there is an increase in pulmonary ventilation, increase in diffusing capacity in the lung, an increase in the cardiac output and increase in the red blood cell count due to an increase in erythropoietin secretion by the kidney, all of which enhance oxygen delivery to the cells. Cellular changes like increase in the number of mitochondria and augmentation of cytochrome oxidase systems take months or years to develop. Too rapid an ascent or inability to acclimatize leads to high-altitude illnesses. These include acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Acute mountain sickness is self limiting if recognized early. Both HACE and HAPE are life threatening and need to be treated aggressively. The key to treatment of these illnesses is early recognition; administration of supplemental oxygen; and descent if required. Drugs like acetazolamide, dexamethasone, nifedipine may be administered as recommended.


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