Altitude Sickness

General or Other | General Practice | Altitude Sickness (Disease)


Acute mountain sickness is an illness that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, or travelers at high altitude. Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening, and can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart. In most cases, the symptoms are mild. Symptoms generally associated with mild to moderate acute mountain sickness include: difficulty sleeping, dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse (heart rate). Symptoms generally associated with more severe acute mountain sickness include: bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis), chest tightness or congestion, confusion, coughing up blood, inability to walk in a straight line, or to walk at all.

Causes and Risk factors

At high altitudes, the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced. Altitude sickness or altitude illness is a disorder that occurs in high altitude, more commonly above 8,000 feet (2,440 meters).

A person is at higher risk for acute mountain sickness if: he or she lives close to the sea or had the illness before.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Listening to the chest with a stethoscope (auscultation) reveals sounds called crackles (rales) in the lung, which may be a sign of fluid in the lungs. Also a chest x-ray may be performed. Complications include: coma, fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and swelling of the brain.

The main treatment for all forms of mountain sickness is to climb down (descend) to a lower altitude as rapidly and safely as possible. You should not continue climbing if you develop symptoms. Extra oxygen should be given, if available. ...