Former tennis champion Martina Navratilova was hospitalized for pulmonary edema—fluid build-up in the lungs—while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, drawing attention to the high risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS) and high altitude pulmonary edema among climbers of high peaks. A timely study in a recent issue of High Altitude Medicine & Biology, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. (www.liebertpub.com), warned of the risks and serious medical outcomes associated with climbing Kilimanjaro and demonstrated that prior acclimatization to increased altitude can help protect against the development of AMS. The paper is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/ham
Altitude-related medical problems during the ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro are relatively common. Pulmonary edema is a more serious disorder than some more common forms of acute mountain sickness.
The study published in High Altitude Medicine & Biology, entitled “Incidence and predictors of acute mountain sickness among trekkers on Mount Kilimanjaro,” evaluated the incidence of AMS among trekkers of this popular climbing destination. Steward Jackson, J. Kenneth Baillie, and colleagues from University of Edinburgh (Scotland) and Muhimbili University College of Health Science (Tanzania), compared the protective effect of a single rest day during the climb, use of prophylactic acetazolamide (a drug with diuretic properties that inhibits fluid retention), or acclimatization to increased altitude prior to the climb on the risk of AMS.
Ms. Navratilova was a powerful, fit, and dominant player throughout her professional career, and this incidence of altitude sickness in an athlete of her stature shows that “good fitness at sea level does not ensure protection from high altitude illnesses,” says John B. West, MD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of High Altitude Medicine & Biology and Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.