Recently, I have been acquainted with a group of mountain climbers who are climbing mountains in order to call attention to Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. Most of these climbers have family members who have one of these diseases, and because they have such strong feelings about this mishap, they are trying to raise money in the hopes of finding a cure. They have made a documentary called 10 Mts. 10 Years. As the name implies, they plan to climb a different mountain each year for ten years. Their first mountain climb was on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Because a couple of the mountain climbers got sick during their climb, I learned the causes for their illness, the cure, and the prevention.
Mountain sickness is caused by the reduced atmosphere pressure, which in turn causes reduced oxygen, which can happen when a person climbs at higher altitudes. The reduced oxygen in the blood affects the nervous system, muscles, the heart, and lungs. When this occurs, there is a higher than normal blood flow through the lungs and the brain. This causes an abnormal accumulation of serum-like fluid in the body tissues of the lungs and the heart.
In most cases, mountain sickness is mild and short-lived. The general symptoms are headaches, nausea, dizziness, and impaired thinking. It is advised that there should be no further ascent until the symptoms disappear.
In some cases, the symptoms are more severe. This is when fluid builds up in the lungs which can cause severe breathlessness, cough and phlegm. When this occurs, the sickness is called high-altitude pulmonary edema. If this fluid builds up around the brain, which is known as cerebral edema, the symptoms may be: severe headache, seizures, vomiting, unsteadiness, hallucinations, and in some cases coma.
If the case is very serious, the climber should be brought down from the mountain and taken to a hospital as quickly as possible. It is very important that this is done quickly because if there is a delay there can be the possibility of brain damage or death. If oxygen is available, this can be a great help.
If a person has to go to the hospital, diuretic drugs are given to reduce the fluid that may have accumulated in the body. If the fluid builds up in the brain, the stay in the hospital can take as long as weeks to recover.
Many mountain climbers improve quite quickly after descending a few thousand feet.
Mountain climbers should be aware of the problems that can take place when climbing high altitudes. They should climb up gradually, stopping for a day or two in order to rest after each further ascent of 2,000 to 3,000 feet. It is recommended by advanced hikers that ascending higher levels during the rest of the day is okay provided that the hiker returns to the lower level before night.
Source: A conversation with one of the hikers
“The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine”