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Chest. 2008 Aug;134(2):402-16. doi: 10.1378/chest.07-0561.

Illnesses at high altitude.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92103, USA.


High-altitude illnesses have profound consequences on the health of many unsuspecting and otherwise healthy individuals who sojourn to high altitude for recreation and work. The clinical manifestations of high-altitude illnesses are secondary to the extravasation of fluid from the intravascular to extravascular space, especially in the brain and lungs. The most common of these illnesses, which can present as low as 2,000 m, is acute mountain sickness, which is usually self-limited but can progress to the more severe and potentially fatal entities of high-altitude cerebral edema and high-altitude pulmonary edema. This article will briefly review normal adaptation to high altitude and then more extensive reviews of the clinical presentations, prevention, and treatments of these potentially fatal conditions. Research on the mechanisms of these conditions will also be reviewed. A better understanding of these disorders by practitioners will lead to improved prevention and rational treatment for the increasing number of people visiting high-altitude areas around the globe. There will not be space for writing about high-altitude residents, medical conditions in low-altitude residents going to high altitude, or training for athletes at high altitude. These topics deserve another article.

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