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Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

The human body is best adapted to function at sea level. At high altitudes, your body has to adapt to new environment. Acute Mountain Sickness can occur if this process is too fast.

 

Where is this condition experienced?

At altitudes above 2,500 metres, the risk of altitude sickness becomes very real. Factors which influence the risk are general health, speed of ascent and whether enough rest is taken.

 

What are the symptoms of this condition?

The most common symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness include a headache (which cannot be controlled by painkillers), nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath even at rest, unusual fatigue and decreased urine output.

 

How is this condition contracted?

Acute Mountain Sickness occurs because of a lack of oxygen in the air. The higher you ascend the more rarefied the air you breathe becomes and the less oxygen it contains. The body starts having difficulty getting all the oxygen it needs.

 

What action should you take?

The best way to get rid of Acute Mountain Sickness is to descend. There are also medicines for prevention and treatment such as Acetazolamide (for example Diamox®). This helps prevent altitude sickness if you start taking it a few days before the ascent and continue taking it at altitude. Diamox® can also be prescribed for those who have already developed the condition but this should only occur after consultation with a doctor who has experience in treating Acute Mountain Sickness.

 

In most cases, Acute Mountain Sickness can be prevented if you take the following measures:

 

  • Ascend slowly at your own pace and get plenty of rest at frequent intervals.
  • Sleep at a level which is lower than the altitude you have reached during the day.
  • Take a day’s rest after ascending each 1,000 metres.
  • Avoid becoming exhausted and dehydrated.
  • Take paracetamol for headaches. You should start descending if your headache does not ease after taking two tablets.

 

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travelclinic@erasmusmc.nl
 

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