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Acute High-Altitude Illness in Mountaineers and Problems of Rescue

RODMAN WILSON, M.D., F.A.C.P.
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▸Requests for reprints should be addressed to Rodman Wilson, M.D., 3300 Providence Dr., Anchorage, AK 99504.


Anchorage, Alaska


Ann Intern Med. 1973;78(3):421-428. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-78-3-421
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Syndromes of acute mountain sickness share hypoxia as a cause, but expression of the illness varies. Cerebral edema is a cause for the development of headache, selective neurologic defect, and coma and perhaps even for high-altitude pulmonary edema, although microthrombi in pulmonary capillaries are often seen in the latter and may be causal. Retinal and preretinal hemorrhages frequently occur at high altitude. Acute mountain sickness is difficult to treat on a mountain, even with oxygen. Drugs are of uncertain usefulness; therefore immediate attempts to lower a victim are in order. Rescue by air is best, but it is hazardous to leave unacclimatized rescuers above 2400 m [8000 feet] without oxygen and the assistance of a ground party. The features of acute mountain sickness and principles of rescue are discussed.

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high altitude

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