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Loss of Acclimatization

The term deacclimatization refers to the loss of adaptations that had been gained during hypobaric-hypoxic exposures. The rate of disappearance is different for each adaptation and each person. For example, a few days at sea level may be sufficient to render a person susceptible to altitude illness, especially high- altitude pulmonary edema see pageAlso, the red blood cell volume of high-altitude natives traveling to sea level decreases considerably in as little as days. In contrast, the improved ability to perform physical work at high altitude may persist for weeks. Adaptations such as improved cardiovascular function and thermoregulation may persist for several months after descent from altitude.

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Medical Considerations High Altitude

A hypobaric-hypoxic environment presents the human body with a unique stressor that is found in no other environment on earth. This stressor is air containing a low oxygen content, due to reduced barometric pressure. Successful altitude acclimatization allows an individual to adapt to hypoxia, primarily by increasing delivery to cells.

Hypoxia-induced medical problems at altitude are related to acclimatization. If altitude acclimatization is complete and the body successfully compensates for the hypoxia, no or few medical problems develop. Incomplete acclimatization may result in various physiological states and clinical conditions that are known collectively as the altitude illnesses.

The risk of altitude illness rises with an increased speed of ascent, altitude reached, and length of stay. Other critical variables include age, gender, health status, previous experience at altitude, and genetic inheritance. Some factors may or may not be critical in the onset of medical problems, including diet, dehydration, infections, and emotional state.

Tablepresents an overview of three altitude-related medical conditions. The following paragraphs discuss these and others in detail. If you require a more thorough coverage, you may consult book chapters written by Hackett and Roach; Houston; Ward, Milledge, and West; and Malconian and Rock.

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