Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, MD, FFARCSI

What is Acute Mountain Sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness is a condition which is most commonly seen in individuals who love to travel at high altitudes like hikers, skiers, and adventurers. Sometimes what happens is because of decreased oxygen and air pressure at very high altitudes usually about 2500 meters above sea level the individual starts to experience some symptoms like dizziness, nausea, headaches, or breathing difficulties.

These symptoms fade away as soon as the individual reaches to a lower altitude where there is more level of oxygen and the air pressure is also more. This is what is referred to as Acute Mountain Sickness. In some rare cases, there may be certain complications affecting the brain and lungs as a result of Acute Mountain Sickness.

What is Acute Mountain Sickness?

What Causes Acute Mountain Sickness?

Lower levels of oxygen and reduced air pressure are the primary causes of Acute Mountain Sickness. Whenever an individual goes at very high altitudes like when traveling in a plane, driving, or hiking at high altitudes the body does not get enough time to get adjusted to the conditions resulting in the symptoms characteristic for Acute Mountain Sickness. The more strenuous activity the individual performs at that altitude the more severe will be the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness.

What Are The Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness?

The onset of symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness is usually within hours of arriving at that altitude. These symptoms may range from mild to severe depending on the severity of the condition. Some of the symptoms of mild Acute Mountain Sickness are:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Inability to sleep
  • Nausea along with vomiting
  • Irritable mood
  • Appetite loss
  • Swelling of the upper and lower extremities
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing with any strenuous activity

Severe cases of Acute Mountain Sickness can cause severe symptoms of the lungs, heart, and even the nervous system. The affected individual may experience confusion or altered mental status as a result of Mountain Sickness.

There may be fluid buildup in the lungs causing shortness of breath even with slight activity. The symptoms of severe form of Acute Mountain Sickness include:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest congestion
  • Individual looks pale
  • Loss of balance
  • Ambulation difficulties

How Is Acute Mountain Sickness Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Acute Mountain Sickness is quite easy as when the patient presents with the symptoms and tells the physician that he or she had been to high altitudes, then Mountain Sickness is suspected to be the most likely cause.

However to confirm the diagnosis, the physician may use tools to detect any abnormal sounds suggestive of fluid in the lungs and may also order radiological studies in the form of an x-ray of the chest which will determine the acuity of the disease and confirm the diagnosis of it. An MRI of the brain may also be done to look for any swelling in the brain that may be caused due to it.

How Is Acute Mountain Sickness Treated?

The treatment for Acute Mountain Sickness depends on the severity of the symptoms and the extent to which the lungs and the brain have been affected.

For mild cases just going down to a lower altitude might be enough for symptom relief. The patient may need to require treatment in an inpatient setting if it is determined that the brain and lungs have been significantly affected by it.

Oxygen may be given for problems with breathing. Some of the medications that are normally given for relief of symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness are acetazolamide for difficulty breathing, medicine to control blood pressure, inhalers to keep the lungs away from any complications due to it.

In cases of brain swelling dexamethasone may be given. Medications for headaches may include standard over the counter headache medicines. Other than this, just going to a lower altitude, limiting activities for a day or two till the body gets used to the climatic conditions, and keeping the body well hydrated is all that is required for treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 21, 2018

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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