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New evidence from magnetic resonance imaging of brain changes after climbs at extreme altitude.

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CEARE, Center of High Performance and Exercise Physiology, Secretaria General de l'Esport, Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.


The aim of the present study was to look for anatomical changes in climbers' brains, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), after extremely high-altitude climbs and to relate them to possible associated risk factors. Clinical history, neurological examinations and MRI were carried out on a group of nine climbers before and after climbing to over 7500 m without the use of supplementary oxygen. None of the subjects showed any neurological dysfunctions. In five climbers MRI abnormalities (high signal areas, cortical atrophy) were observed before the expedition. After the descent, two of them showed new high intensity signal areas recorded by MRI. Both subjects suffered severe neurological symptoms during the climb. The present study suggested that the brain changes observed by MRI could be related to the severity of clinical events at high altitude. However, we do not know the exact meaning of such MRI findings or the reason for their location, predominantly in posterior regions of the brain. The new evidence that a high percentage of climbers show MRI brain abnormalities, and especially the appearance of changes after the ascent, reinforces the possibility of a potential neurological risk in high-altitude climbing.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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