Acclimatization Practices of High-Altitude Recreationalists

Wednesday, 24 July 2013: 3:30 PM

Leslie H. Rozier, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Proprietor: Prophase International, Pinedale, WY

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to describe the acclimatization practices of high-altitude recreationalists

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to describe the risks of developing acute mountain sickness with rapid ascent to high altitude

Background / Significance / Purpose: Acute mountain sickness (AMS) will occur if ascent to altitude is rapid. Any type of travel to altitude around 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) is associated with an increased risk of developing AMS. The rationale and reasons for deferment of acclimatization modalities is unknown.

Study Design: Cross-sectional, descriptive study.

Setting: High-altitude mountain trailhead at 9,300 feet.

Sample: Convenience sample of 120 volunteer high-altitude recreationalists or backpackers, 18 years of age or older.

Methods: A questionnaire was completed by subjects that included demographic information such as age, gender, altitude of residence, means of transport to calculate the rate of ascent and the number of hours taken to acclimatize to the altitude at the trailhead. Acclimatization prophylaxis activities were documented including the use of medications and personal remedies. Baseline vital signs, height, weight and BMI were recorded for each subject. The instrument queried the volunteer about the existence of current AMS symptoms by completion of a Lake Louise Symptom Score Questionnaire.

Results: Despite recent Wilderness Medical Society (WMS) recommendations (Luks et al., 2010) stressing gradual ascent and medication prophylaxis for the prevention of AMS, 61% of the subjects took less than 24 hours to ascend to 9,300 feet to begin their journey. The majority (55%) of subjects (n=66) did not perceive the need for medications. Only three subjects (2.5%) were taking acetazolamide and just 4% had consulted a health professional prior to their high altitude sojourn. The general consensus was to “suffer through” any symptoms. Twelve subjects (10%) were unaware that acclimatization was a recommendation for ascent to altitude.

Discussion / Conclusion / Implications: Embracing acclimatization guidelines as a primary prevention strategy of AMS, will bode well for all high mountain travelers as well as the healthcare providers who inform them.