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Life-threatening mountain sickness can happen at lower altitudes

February 03, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange

The chances of developing a life-threatening form of mountain sickness at moderately high altitudes, such as those at ski resorts in California, may be greater than has been thought.

Researchers reviewed the charts of people admitted to the emergency room at the Moutiers and Nord hospitals in southeastern France over a nine-year period and found that 52 had symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema. This potentially fatal buildup of fluid in the lungs is caused by an increase in pressure in the blood vessels that supply the lungs. All of the patients were lowlanders vacationing at nearby ski resorts at altitudes of 4,590 feet to 7,870 feet.

"This study could be the tip of an iceberg," says Lawrence Raymond, an environmental medicine expert. "People who aren't sick enough to go to the doctor may have milder forms of HAPE and think they don't feel good because they're out of shape, overweight or haven't skied for a while."

When you go from a low area, such as Los Angeles, to an area of 5,000 to 6,000 feet, take it easy the first day and see how you feel before skiing or snowshoeing or doing any vigorous exercise, Raymond advises.

The study was published in the January issue of Chest.

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