Hypoxia pp 177-189 | Cite as

Cardio-Pulmonary Interactions at High Altitude

Pulmonary hypertension as a common denominator
  • Marco Maggiorini
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 543)


The purpose of this review is to find the evidence that a disproportionate pulmonary vasoconstriction persisting for days, weeks and years during residence at high altitude is the common pathophysiologic mechanism of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), subacute mountain sickness and chronic mountain sickness. A recent finding in early HAPE suggests that transmission of excessively elevated pulmonary artery pressure to the pulmonary capillaries leading to alveolar hemorrhage as the pathophysiologic mechanism of HAPE. The elevated incidence of HAPE in Indian soldiers led the Indian Army to extend the acclimatization period from a few days to 5 weeks. Using this protocol, HAPE was prevented, but after several weeks of residence at an altitude of 6000m dyspnea, anasarca and pleuro-pericardial effusion developed. Clinical examination revealed severe congestive right heart failure. This condition has been previously described in long-term high altitude residents of the Himalaya and the Andes. In rats, smooth muscle cells appear in normally non-muscular arterioles within days of simulated altitude. Rapid remodeling of the small precapillary arteries may prevent HAPE but increase pulmonary vascular resistance leading to pulmonary hypertension in long-term high altitude residents. Symptoms and signs of HAPE, subacute mountain sickness and chronic mountain sickness reverse completely after residents are transfered to low altitude. In conclusion, these findings strongly suggest that pulmonary hypertension at high altitude, which could be named “high altitude pulmonary hypertension”, is the principal and common pathogenic factor of all three cardio-pulmonary manifestations of high altitude illness. Accordingly, subacute mountain sickness and chronic mountain sickness could be renamed in “acute-” and “chronic right heart failure of high altitude”, respectively.

Key Words

high altitude pulmonary hypertension high altitude pulmonary edema subacute mountain sickness chronic mountain sickness Monge disease right heart failure 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2003

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  • Marco Maggiorini

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