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Chest. 1993 Jan;103(1):111-6.

Pulmonary function and hypoxic ventilatory response in subjects susceptible to high-altitude pulmonary edema.

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Cardiovascular Pulmonary Research Laboratory, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver.


To determine if spirometric changes reflect early high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) formation, we measured the FVC, FEV1, and FEF25-75 serially during the short-term period following simulated altitude exposure (4,400 m) in eight male subjects, four with a history of HAPE and four control subjects who had never experienced HAPE. Three of the four HAPE-susceptible subjects developed acute mountain sickness (AMS), based on their positive Environmental Symptom Questionnaire (AMS-C) scores. Clinical signs and symptoms of mild pulmonary edema developed in two of the three subjects with AMS after 4 h of exposure, which prompted their removal from the chamber. Their spirometry showed small decreases in FVC and greater decreases in FEV1 and FEF25-75 after arrival at high altitude in the presence of rales or wheezing on clinical examination and normal chest radiographs. One of the two subjects had desaturation (59 percent) and tachycardia during mild exercise, and excessive fatigue and inability to complete the exercise protocol developed in the other at 4 h. The six other subjects had minimal changes in spirometry and did not develop signs of lung edema. Further, we measured each subject's ventilatory response to hypoxia (HVR) prior to decompression to determine whether the HVR would predict the development of altitude illness in susceptible subjects. In contrast to anticipated results, high ventilatory responses to acute hypoxia, supported by increased ventilation during exposure to high altitude, occurred in the two subjects in whom symptoms of HAPE developed. The results confirm that HAPE can occur in susceptible individuals despite the presence of a normal or high ventilatory response to hypoxia.

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