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Effects of high altitude on the brain - interesting article

Original Post
ErikaNW · · Golden, CO · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 145

I thought others might be interested in this - I'll try to find the actual research paper and post it as well. One thing that isn't clear in the article is whether pre-climb brain scans were done (I assume they were), but still concerning to see cortical damage in pretty much all of the climbers post- altitude exposure.

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 564
ErikaNW · · Golden, CO · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 145

Thanks Mark! Looks like they didn't do scans pre-climb, but did include a non-climbing control group. Pretty huge limitation, but still interesting findings. 

Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 564

I believe more research has been done in the area since 2006, will take a look this weekend if I have time. 

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 180

12/13 climbers returned with abnormal brain scans. while it would be nice to show pre/post scans, i think one can conclude that 92% of low altitude people are not walking around with permanent brain damage and high altitude trips are the cause of what was observed.

thats a bit scary. ive been over 20k ft and many trips above 14k. at least i now have an excuse!

ErikaNW · · Golden, CO · Joined Sep 2010 · Points: 145

With no pre-scans, my thought was perhaps pre-existing brain damage is what makes a person want to go to those elevations!! Ha ha! 

Evan Ratzan · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 103

Neuroscientist/climber here, the research is still pretty underdeveloped. The harmful effects are largely influenced by genetic and environmental factors (like anaerobic training). For example, I am doubtful that Kilian Jornet suffers as much damage at 20k as many other a office worker from sea level, making his first summit attempt.  Likewise, the Sherpas I met living near Dingboche were running laps up and down from base camp with no issues. Overall, hypoxia and pressure changes are stressful to the nervous system and can cause damage, but adults still generate new brain cells and I doubt that climbing is more harmful than playing high school football or many nights of heavy drinking. However, HACE and prolonged altitude exposure are no bueno for anyone, get up and get back down in a reasonable time frame. Here are some more articles.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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