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Altitude Illness
What we have to say about your health and well being

What is it?

Altitude illness describes a number of problems that may occur when an individual ascends rapidly to high altitude, usually above 2,500m. As you gain altitude, air pressure decreases and so your body takes in less oxygen molecules per breath, leading to less oxygen being delivered around the body.

Risk areas

High altitude regions of the world such as the Himalayas (Asia), the Andes (South America), Rocky Mountains (North America), the Alps (Europe).

Popular high altitude destinations include Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal (5,380m), Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5,895m), the Inca Trail in Peru (up to 4,200m), Aconcagua in Argentina (6,960m), Mount Kinabalu in Malayisan Borneo (4,095m) & Mount Fuji in Japan (3,776m).

Cities located at high altitude include: Lhasa, Tibet (3,658m); La Paz, Bolivia (3,630m); Cuzco, Peru (3,399m); Quito, Ecuador (2,819m); Bogotá, Colombia (2,644m); Addis Ababa (2,408m) and Johannesburg, South Africa (1,750m).

Prevention (holistic)

The best way to prevent altitude illness is by acclimitasing slowly and allowing for rest. It is also important to be aware of symptoms of altitude illness and always attempt to descent if these symptoms worsen at a given altitude or if they are severe.

Table 1: Wilderness Medicine Society Risk categories for Acute Mountain Sickness

Risk Category Description
Low
  • Individuals with no prior history of altitude illness and ascending to ≤2,800m
  • Individuals taking ≥2 days to arrive at 2,500-3,000 m with subsequent increases in sleeping elevation
Moderate
  • Individuals with a history of AMS ascending to 2,500-2,800m in one day
  • Individuals with no history of AMS ascending to >2,800m in one day
  • All individuals ascending >500 m/day (in sleeping elevation) at altitudes above 3,000m but with an extra day for acclimatisation every 1,000m
High
  • Individuals with a history of AMS ascending to ≥2,800m in 1 day
  • All individuals with a history of HACE
  • All individuals ascending to >3,500m in 1 day
  • All individuals ascending >500 m/day (in sleeping elevation) above 3,000m without extra days for acclimatisation
  • Very rapid ascents (e.g. many treks on Kilimanjaro

Prevention (medication)

Medication is not necessary for low risk, with gradual ascent sufficient for individuals. For moderate or high risk ascents, preventative medicine may be considered in conjunction with gradual ascent. Acetazolamide (Diamox) is the preferred medicine but is unlicensed for this indication.

Please discuss your requirements with our Travel Pharmacist or Nurse.

Further information

For more information, please visit the following link:
https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/disease/12/altitude-illness




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