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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2006 Feb;100(2):690-4.

Platelet count and function at high altitude and in high-altitude pulmonary edema.

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Dept. of Internal Medicine, Kantonsspital, CH-7000 Chur, Switzerland.


Platelet aggregation is the key process in primary hemostasis. Certain conditions such as hypoxia may induce platelet aggregation and lead to platelet sequestration primarily in the pulmonary microcirculation. We investigated the influence of high-altitude exposure on platelet function as part of a larger study on 30 subjects with a history of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and 10 healthy controls. All participants were studied in the evening and the next morning at low altitude (450 m) and after an ascent to high altitude (4,559 m). Platelet count, platelet aggregation (platelet function analyzer PFA100; using epinephrine and ADP as activators), plasma soluble P (sP)-selectin, and the coagulation parameters prothrombin fragments 1+2 and thrombin-antithrombin complex were measured. High-altitude exposure decreased the platelet count, shortened the platelet function analyzer closure time by approximately 20%, indicating increased platelet aggregation, increased sP-selectin levels to approximately 250%, but left plasma coagulation unaffected. The HAPE-susceptible subjects were prophylactically treated with either tadalafil (a phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor), dexamethasone, or placebo in a double-blind way. Subgroup analyses between these different treatments and comparisons of the seven placebo-treated individuals developing HAPE and controls revealed no differences in platelet count, platelet aggregation, or sP-selectin values. We conclude that exposure to high altitude activates platelets, which leads to platelet aggregation, platelet consumption, and decreased platelet count. These effects are, however, not more pronounced in individuals with a history of HAPE or actually suffering from HAPE than in controls and therefore may not be a pathophysiological mechanism of HAPE.

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