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High altitude effects

An increase in altitude results in a decrease in atmospheric pressure. Although the proportion of oxygen relative to gases in the atmosphere remains at 21 percent, its partial pressure decreases ( [link] ). As a result, it is more difficult for a body to achieve the same level of oxygen saturation at high altitude than at low altitude, due to lower atmospheric pressure. In fact, hemoglobin saturation is lower at high altitudes compared to hemoglobin saturation at sea level. For example, hemoglobin saturation is about 67 percent at 19,000 feet above sea level, whereas it reaches about 98 percent at sea level.

Partial Pressure of Oxygen at Different Altitudes
Example location Altitude (feet above sea level) Atmospheric pressure (mm Hg) Partial pressure of oxygen (mm Hg)
New York City, New York 0 760 159
Boulder, Colorado 5000 632 133
Aspen, Colorado 8000 565 118
Pike’s Peak, Colorado 14,000 447 94
Denali (Mt. McKinley), Alaska 20,000 350 73
Mt. Everest, Tibet 29,000 260 54

As you recall, partial pressure is extremely important in determining how much gas can cross the respiratory membrane and enter the blood of the pulmonary capillaries. A lower partial pressure of oxygen means that there is a smaller difference in partial pressures between the alveoli and the blood, so less oxygen crosses the respiratory membrane. As a result, fewer oxygen molecules are bound by hemoglobin. Despite this, the tissues of the body still receive a sufficient amount of oxygen during rest at high altitudes. This is due to two major mechanisms. First, the number of oxygen molecules that enter the tissue from the blood is nearly equal between sea level and high altitudes. At sea level, hemoglobin saturation is higher, but only a quarter of the oxygen molecules are actually released into the tissue. At high altitudes, a greater proportion of molecules of oxygen are released into the tissues. Secondly, at high altitudes, a greater amount of BPG is produced by erythrocytes, which enhances the dissociation of oxygen from hemoglobin. Physical exertion, such as skiing or hiking, can lead to altitude sickness due to the low amount of oxygen reserves in the blood at high altitudes. At sea level, there is a large amount of oxygen reserve in venous blood (even though venous blood is thought of as “deoxygenated”) from which the muscles can draw during physical exertion. Because the oxygen saturation is much lower at higher altitudes, this venous reserve is small, resulting in pathological symptoms of low blood oxygen levels. You may have heard that it is important to drink more water when traveling at higher altitudes than you are accustomed to. This is because your body will increase micturition (urination) at high altitudes to counteract the effects of lower oxygen levels. By removing fluids, blood plasma levels drop but not the total number of erythrocytes. In this way, the overall concentration of erythrocytes in the blood increases, which helps tissues obtain the oxygen they need.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) , or altitude sickness, is a condition that results from acute exposure to high altitudes due to a low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitudes. AMS typically can occur at 2400 meters (8000 feet) above sea level. AMS is a result of low blood oxygen levels, as the body has acute difficulty adjusting to the low partial pressure of oxygen. In serious cases, AMS can cause pulmonary or cerebral edema. Symptoms of AMS include nausea, vomiting, fatigue, lightheadedness, drowsiness, feeling disoriented, increased pulse, and nosebleeds. The only treatment for AMS is descending to a lower altitude; however, pharmacologic treatments and supplemental oxygen can improve symptoms. AMS can be prevented by slowly ascending to the desired altitude, allowing the body to acclimate, as well as maintaining proper hydration.


Especially in situations where the ascent occurs too quickly, traveling to areas of high altitude can cause AMS. Acclimatization is the process of adjustment that the respiratory system makes due to chronic exposure to a high altitude. Over a period of time, the body adjusts to accommodate the lower partial pressure of oxygen. The low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitudes results in a lower oxygen saturation level of hemoglobin in the blood. In turn, the tissue levels of oxygen are also lower. As a result, the kidneys are stimulated to produce the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which stimulates the production of erythrocytes, resulting in a greater number of circulating erythrocytes in an individual at a high altitude over a long period. With more red blood cells, there is more hemoglobin to help transport the available oxygen. Even though there is low saturation of each hemoglobin molecule, there will be more hemoglobin present, and therefore more oxygen in the blood. Over time, this allows the person to partake in physical exertion without developing AMS.

Chapter review

Normally, the respiratory centers of the brain maintain a consistent, rhythmic breathing cycle. However, in certain cases, the respiratory system must adjust to situational changes in order to supply the body with sufficient oxygen. For example, exercise results in increased ventilation, and chronic exposure to a high altitude results in a greater number of circulating erythrocytes. Hyperpnea, an increase in the rate and depth of ventilation, appears to be a function of three neural mechanisms that include a psychological stimulus, motor neuron activation of skeletal muscles, and the activation of proprioceptors in the muscles, joints, and tendons. As a result, hyperpnea related to exercise is initiated when exercise begins, as opposed to when tissue oxygen demand actually increases.

In contrast, acute exposure to a high altitude, particularly during times of physical exertion, does result in low blood and tissue levels of oxygen. This change is caused by a low partial pressure of oxygen in the air, because the atmospheric pressure at high altitudes is lower than the atmospheric pressure at sea level. This can lead to a condition called acute mountain sickness (AMS) with symptoms that include headaches, disorientation, fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness. Over a long period of time, a person’s body will adjust to the high altitude, a process called acclimatization. During acclimatization, the low tissue levels of oxygen will cause the kidneys to produce greater amounts of the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates the production of erythrocytes. Increased levels of circulating erythrocytes provide an increased amount of hemoglobin that helps supply an individual with more oxygen, preventing the symptoms of AMS.

Questions & Answers

Functions of the thoracic cage
Fereh Reply
protect all the organs and tissues from any impact or injury
why sickle cell carrier people don't get malaria
Boakye Reply
What is the amniotic fluid
bollywood Reply
structure of heart and it's function (10 mark )
Priyanka Reply
What is the best book on physiology?
cesar Reply
describe varicocele
what do you mean by peritoneum
Siba Reply
It is thick covering surrounding the abdomen
how to become good in Anatomy and physiology
What are is the last solution to abdomen pain in pregnant women
no it is in kidney
structure of heart and it's function
Serous membrane lining the cavity of the abdomen
it is four lobs structure and it is triangular in shaped. it 's function pumping the blood
explain root of lungs
Glomerular pressure -capsule pressure -colloid osmosis pressure
malulu Reply
how to describe mechanism of micturition
spleen is important?
helpful in destruction of rbc
It is imp in storing blood and destruction of microbes and harmful particles
ty sir
what are the sources of glucose in the body
describe mechanism of micturition
Pancreatic hormones with function
mami Reply
Insulin, which helps to regulate our blood sugar levels.
glucagon which is antagonistic to insulin increase the blood glucose level,. Somatostatin help to regulate the levels of both insulin and glucagon
thnks for helping
what is a lymph node.?
lymph nodes are small kidney shaped organs of the lymphatic system.
there are several hundred lymph nodes found mostly throughout the thorax and abdomen of the body with the highest concentrations in the auxiliary (armpit) and inguinal groin regions.
what is life
Yar Reply
life is the existence of an individual human being animal or plant
how I join this
to day I am new person and I can't participate questions so to morow I shall participate question sopleas excuse me
I had a debate earlier about nutrition and it didn't get a clear answer on that,can one tell me what the definition of nutrition.?
the nutrition is nourish person is feeling an nutrition
I think nutrition is the process of taking food and using it for growth, metabolism and repair.
life is full of happy and sorrow
life is achievement
life is the nothing but god gave us 1 body. and we all service k in this body. The things which we do for the Survivation for this body I felt that this is called as the life
Yes God gave us life but not god who gave us the life. Hope u understood what i meant by God n not god who gave life..... ?
What's the question?
Sherman Reply
once you lose pigmentation can you ever get it back
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females are lesser prone to acne
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described the skin
Yayra Reply
skin is outer covery of human body and it is largest organ of human body. it do three fauntion protection regulation and sensation of human body that is men fauntion of human skin it has seven part.
how thick is the epidermis?
the integumentary system is the largest system of the body 16% of body weight and 1.5 to 2m² in area
function of the endocrine system
Hamo Reply
produces hormones that plays specific functions
has endocrine gland calld as ductless gland so as produces hormones

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