In a study from the American Heart Association, scientists found visiting high-altitude locations may be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or certain heart conditions.
The study offers guidance about engaging in recreational activities in mountainous regions.
The scientific statement suggests that to help prepare for emergencies beforehand, people with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart rhythm abnormalities or heart failure first should check with a healthcare professional.
Consequences can be serious and even fatal, such as sudden cardiac death, which can occur within the first 24 hours of altitude change.
At higher altitudes – any place 9,840 feet above sea level or higher – the heart needs more oxygen-rich blood, even at rest.
Activities at higher altitudes such as skiing, hiking, bicycling or climbing can place too much stress on the heart and blood vessels due to lower levels of oxygen and fluctuations in air pressure, temperature and humidity.
Even at moderate altitudes, such as 8,800 feet above sea level, fainting can be common and may happen within 24 hours of making the ascent.
More than 100 million people travel to high-altitude, mountainous regions in the U.S. for work or pleasure each year, the report said.
Many have risk factors for or already have been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to know the potential impact of exertion on the body, especially when medical centers that provide advanced cardiac care can be difficult to find or reach in some mountain areas.
People who live at high altitudes face fewer risks because their bodies have had time to adjust to living with less oxygen.
The statement advises increasing altitude gradually to give the body time to adjust to lower oxygen levels; drinking lots of fluids for better hydration; limiting or avoiding alcohol; and planning how to descend in an emergency.
It suggests people with heart conditions consult a doctor about whether they need to adjust heart medications before travel.
Finally, it recommends anyone who could potentially require emergency care to identify where to find it and to learn the symptoms that would prompt a need for it.
For more information about health, please see recent studies that unsalted tomato juice could reduce blood pressure, and results showing the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease.
The statement was written by Dr. William Cornwell III et al and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
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