Lung disease at high altitude

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20 Scopus citations


The lungs are a delicate interface between the atmosphere and our bodies across which oxygen diffuses from the air we breathe to the blood which carries oxygen to the cells and mitochondria. In healthy lungs at sea level where there is a surfeit of oxygen, this process occurs easily, whereas, in lungs with disease it becomes a task which may not be fully successful and hypoxemia may ensue or worsen. At high altitude where the barometric pressure (Pb) and thus the supply of oxygen is lower, the job of getting oxygen to the blood, even in the healthy lung is more difficult, and in the diseased lung it may be impossible. This presentation will review the lungs' responses to high altitude, with emphasis on the abnormal. Both acute and chronic responses of patients with pre-existing lung disease will be reviewed. Pulmonary diseases encountered at high altitude in previously healthy people, such as high altitude pulmonary edema and chronic mountain sickness will be touched on only as they pertain to other patients. Pre-existing lung disease (with and without hypoxemia at sea level) such as obstructive lung diseases (asthma, COPD, emphysema), and restrictive lung diseases (sarcoid, asbestosis, interstitial pulmonary fibrosis) will be discussed in terms of gas exchange, lung mechanics, and treatment at high altitude. Disorders of ventilatory control; e.g., obesity-hypoventilation syndrome and sleep apnea, may present formidable problems, and guidelines for their treatment will be discussed. Infectious lung diseases; e.g., pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary vascular disorders such as chronic mountain sickness, primary pulmonary hypertension, and congenital absence of the pulmonary artery are important disorders that require special attention because of the accentuated hypoxic pulmonary vascular response encountered at high altitude. The purpose therefore, is to provide the medical practitioner with the insight into prevention, recognition, and treatment of pulmonary problems encountered specifically at high altitude, as well as guidance on how best to advise patients with lung disease who want to fly in airplanes and/or ascend to high altitude for work or pleasure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-56
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in experimental medicine and biology
StatePublished - Dec 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Pulmonary disease

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