High-altitude-related disorders--Part I: Pathophysiology, differential diagnosis, and treatment.Heart Lung. 2003 Nov-Dec; 32(6):353-9.HL
As increasing numbers of people choose to sojourn or retire to the mountains, high-altitude illness is becoming a pathological phenomenon about which healthcare providers should have greater awareness. Hypoxia is the primary cause of high-altitude illness, but other stressors on the sympathetic nervous system, such as cold and exertion, also contribute to disease development and progression. Although variable across persons, symptoms of high-altitude disorders usually occur at altitudes over 7000 feet, and typically in 1 of 3 forms: acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE), or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Major symptoms include nausea, poor sleep, headache, lassitude, cough, dyspnea on exertion and at rest, ataxia, and mental status changes. As a rule, illness occurring at high altitude should be attributed to the altitude until proven otherwise. Treatment is best accomplished by descent and by oxygen or pharmacologic intervention if necessary. Under no circumstances should a person with worsening symptoms of high-altitude illness delay descent. As will be discussed in part II of this article, gradual ascent and subsequent acclimatization to altitude is the most effective prevention, though acetazolamide (Diamox) may be a useful prophylactic measure in some.