Health and MedicineDiseasesAltitude or mountain sickness: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

Altitude or mountain sickness: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

Altitude sickness (or acute mountain sickness) is a disease that appears when we are exposed to low oxygen pressure at high altitude. Discover its symptoms and main causes.

We recently taught about the terrible case of Maria Stardom, a 34-year-old Australian woman who died during the descent of Everest, after reaching 8,848 meters of altitude with her husband and returning quickly after beginning to feel bad. Its objective?  Demonstrate that vegans are “weak” and “malnourished”, since “by climbing the seven summits we want to demonstrate that vegans can do anything and more”.

Unfortunately, Stardom passed away not because she was vegan and weak or malnourished. He died as a result of altitude sickness, a condition also known as mountain sickness, which affects hundreds of people around the world every year.

In fact, to suffer from it is not necessary to be a hiker, mountaineer or climber and reach tremendously high mountains and peaks. It is enough to be at a high altitude (more than 3,000 meters), and simply travel to cities that are located at a height, such as La Paz in Bolivia or Mexico City.

What is mountain sickness?

The one known as  mountain sickness or altitude sickness (also known as acute mountain sickness) consists of a disease that affects anyone who ascends too quickly from a mountain or city that is ultimately at a high altitude (generally more than 3,000 meters).

For this reason, it is a disease that not only affects climbers, skiers and hikers, but also mere and simple travelers.

That is, it is a series of physical reactions that our body produces as a result of exposure to low oxygen pressure, which always exists at high altitude.

What are your causes?

It is a disease that appears as a result of the combination of low oxygen concentration -so common at high altitudes- and reduced atmospheric pressure.

As we can see, it is not a disease that affects the person based on their physical condition, but can even affect experienced athletes with a good complexion and physical performance.

The sudden decrease in oxygen causes serious alterations in our health, so that if this decrease is maintained for an excessive time, it not only causes symptoms related to mountain sickness, but can also cause death.

Symptoms of altitude sickness.

We must differentiate between mild symptoms and severe symptoms. Thus, for example, within the mild symptoms we can mention headaches, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, insomnia, dizziness, and feeling of vertigo, shortness of breath (which worsens with physical exertion), rapid pulse and fatigue.

Among the serious or very serious symptoms we can mention: expectoration of blood, bluish discoloration of the skin, confusion, pulmonary or cerebral edema, decreased state of consciousness, absolute inability to walk and confusion.

How to prevent?

Prevention is simple and effective in most cases. In this sense, the body must be subjected to a period of acclimatization before the descent, which helps our body to adapt to low oxygen pressures.

We must not forget that precisely mountain sickness occurs as a result of rapidly ascending from a certain height to a higher one and staying there for a while without adequate prior acclimatization.

For this reason, if symptoms appear, the basic treatment consists of trying to descend to lower altitudes as soon as possible, applying oxygen in a mask and also doing so through a certain rational safety balance.

On the other hand, if the symptoms are mild, rest should be maintained on the same ground for the following 24 to 48 hours, maintaining a diet rich in sugars and good hydration.

However, if the symptoms worsen or are more severe, the affected person should be quickly started to descend to the lowest possible altitude (a descent of approximately 400 meters is usually sufficient), administer oxygen through a mask, as well as analgesics and acetazolamide. For the treatment of high altitude insomnia.


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