Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness Overview:

Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), this condition is characterised by the hypoxic effects of high altitude. There are two main conditions associated with AMS; High altitude cerebral edema (HACE), and High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Both conditions involve fluid buildup as a result of the differential atmospheric pressure. Both can be fatal if left untreated for too long, and both are easily and fully treated with the removal to a lower altitude.



+ High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

  • Fluid buildup in the brain.
  • Can be fatal
  • Primary symptoms is ataxia

+ High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

  • Fluid buildup in the lungs.
  • Can be fatal





Fluid in the Lungs





Irregular Breathing Patterns While Sleeping


Physiological Changes of Altitude Sickness

Lab Metric Change
Erythropoietin Increased
Hematocrit Increased
Hemoglobin Increased
Urinary Bicarbonate Increased

Therapeutic Aims:

1. Increase Oxygen Concentration

Altitude should be reduced to the last checkpoint where good health was maintained. Syptoms will usually cease immediatly. Oxygen therapy can be given prior to arriving at a safe altitude to increase the oxygen concentration.

2. Improve Gase Exchange

Focus on breathing to improve carbon dioxide elimination to prevent further symptoms.

  • Bronchodilators (Theobroma cacao, Xanthine Alkaloids)
  • Beta-2-receptor agonists (Ephedra sinica)

3. Reduce Fluid Buildup

This is important to reduce some of the fluid accumulation symptoms of altitude sickness.

  • Vasodilators ()
  • Diuretics ()

Differential Diagnosis:

  • Stroke
  • Cold/Flu

Herbs/Supplements For Altitude Sickness:


Pharmaceutical Treatment Options

  • Dexamethosone
  • Beta-2-receptor agonists

Training Considerations For Altitude Sickness:

  • Acclimatise slowly by increasing altitude gradually over several weeks
  • Visit altitude training centres for several weeks prior to trip
  • Blood transfusions


Justin Cooke

The Sunlight Experiment

Updated: may 2018

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