Arterial oxygen saturation for prediction of acute mountain sickness

Robert C. Roach, E. Richard Greene, Robert B. Schoene, Peter H. Hackett

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120 Scopus citations


Background: Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a usually self-limiting syndrome encompassing headache, nausea and dizziness. AMS is seen in those that go from low to high altitudes too quickly, without allowing sufficient time to acclimatize. At present, susceptibility to AMS cannot be predicted. One feature of AMS noted in some studies is impaired gas exchange. If impaired gas exchange presages AMS then those individuals with exaggerated hypoxemia at high altitude may be more likely to develop AMS. If true, then monitoring of arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2%) may differentiate AMS- resistant individuals from those with impending AMS. Methods: To test this hypothesis, we measured SaO2% and AMS symptom scores in 102 healthy asymptomatic climbers at 4200 m on Denali (Mr. McKinley) prior to their further ascent toward the summit at 6194 m, and on their return from higher altitudes to 4200 m. Results: The results show that exaggerated hypoxemia in asymptomatic climbers prior to further ascent correlates with subsequent AMS (r = - 0.48, p < 0.001). Criteria are presented for identification of 80- 100% of those climbers who later become ill with AMS. Conclusion: We conclude that resting arterial hypoxemia is related to later development of clinical AMS, and can exclude the occurrence and caution those at risk for development of subsequent AMS. Likely mechanisms are hypoventilation relative to normally acclimatizing individuals and/or abnormalities of gas exchange. Thus, non- invasive oximetry provides a simple, specific indicator of inadequate acclimatization to high altitudes and impending AMS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1182-1185
Number of pages4
JournalAviation Space and Environmental Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 1998
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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