Altitude Sickness: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness is an effect of high altitude on humans caused on account of exposure to lower amount oxygen at high altitude. It is also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude illness, hypobaropathy, "the altitude bends", or soroche. It usually occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet). It affects mainly mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, or travellers at high altitude. The decrease in atmospheric pressure makes breathing difficult.
Altitude sickness overview

Recovery Time

Most cases are mild. Symptoms may improve quickly when you climb down the mountain to a lower altitude.

Altitude sickness recovery


  • Physical examination by a doctor using stethoscope may reveal sounds called crackles (rales) in the lung. Rales may be a sign of fluid in the lungs.
  • Other tests may include- Blood tests, Brain CT scan, Chest x-ray, Electrocardiogram (ECG).

FAQs prepared by doctor

Q1.  What advice for pregnant women for altitude sickness?
Higher than 3000 m to altitudes at which oxygen saturation drops steeply seems unadvisable for pregnant women.

Q2.  I am diagnosed hypertensive. What suggestions for me while going for trekking trip?
At high altitudes, enhanced sympathetic activity may lead to a transient rise in blood pressure that rarely reaches dangerously high levels. So people should continue to take their antihypertensive medications at high altitudes. Because the probable mechanism of high-altitude hypertension is adrenergic activity, anti-adrenergic drugs like prazosin have been suggested for symptomatic patients and those with labile hypertension. It is best to start taking the drug several weeks before the trip and to carry a sphygmomanometer.

Q3.  I have bleeding per anus at high altitudes. What to do to prevent?
Hemorrhoids are common on high-altitude treks; treatment includes hot soaks, application of hydrocortisone ointment, and measures to avoid constipation.

Q4.  Can I have a reaction to acetazolamide for altitude sickness?
Yes, some people can have unwanted side-effects from acetazolamide. Acetazolamide is sometimes used as a preventive medicine to decrease the symptoms of altitude illness. It works by speeding up acclimatization but will not stop you getting altitude illness. After taking acetazolamide, some people experience a tingling sensation (especially in their legs, hands and face) and need to urinate more often. Other possible side-effects include vomiting, headache, dizziness and diarrhea. Acetazolamide may also alter the taste of fizzy drinks and occasionally people develop rashes.
Your Doctor may recommend you take acetazolamide as a trial several weeks before you go away. If you do not have any unpleasant side-effects, then he or she will advise you to take beginning one day before your ascent and continuing for two or three days until you have acclimatized at high altitude.

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