During the past few years I had the opportunity to learn mountaineering and ice/rock climbing from a few storied guides. I even got to climb one of Canada’s sixteen 10,000′-plus peaks. Although neither of us developed any form of high-altitude illness the trip prompted me to research the disease. High-altitude illness encompasses a group of acute pathologies which affect the bodies of individuals not accustomed to altitudes over 2,500m (8,202 feet) above sea level. These are acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral oedema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE). AMS is far more common than HAPE and HACE with the latter two occurring in less than 0.1 to 4.0% of ascent cases. AMS equally affects both men & women as well as paediatric & adult patients. Strangely individuals over 50 seem to have a lower risk of developing AMS. I will reference Basnyat & Murdoch, 2003 (free public access) as well as the Merck page on Altitude Sickness. See also BaseCamp MD.
Signs and Symptoms
Climbing Mt. Baldwin, summit: 10,682 ft
We in Canada actually contributed to the diagnosis of AMS! The Lake Louise Consensus Group defines AMS as a new onset headache, in an unacclimatized person, who has recently travelled above 2500m as well as at least one of the following: fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, and/or sleep disturbances. The symptoms typically begin 6 to 10 h after ascent and spontaneously subside after one to two days. Continue reading