Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Altitude Brain Swelling Overview

Another name for Altitude Brain Swelling is High Altitude Cerebral Edema.

What is high altitude cerebral edema?
A person with high altitude cerebral edema has brain swelling, caused by exposure to high altitude. Cerebral edema causes the brain to malfunction. High altitude cerebral edema is life threatening without urgent treatment. About 12% of people develop symptoms of high altitude illness at an altitude of 9,000 feet. Only a small percentage of people with high altitude illness develop cerebral edema. High altitude cerebral edema is rare at altitudes below 12,000 feet.

What are the symptoms of high altitude cerebral edema?
Initial symptoms of high altitude cerebral edema include weakness, fatigue, headache, and nausea. Symptoms of worsening high altitude cerebral edema include vomiting, difficulty with balance, lethargy, confusion, and seizures.

How does the doctor treat high altitude cerebral edema?
High altitude cerebral edema is a medical emergency. Treatment for high altitude cerebral edema includes immediate descent to a lower altitude. Additional treatment for high altitude cerebral edema may include oxygen therapy and hyperbaric therapy.

Continue to Altitude Brain Swelling Incidence

Last Updated: Feb 9, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Altitude Brain Swelling References
  1. Basnyat B, Murdoch DR. High-altitude illness. Lancet. 2003 Jun 7;361(9373):1967-74. [12801752]
  2. Foster PP, Feiveson AH, Boriek AM. Predicting time to decompression illness during exercise at altitude, based on formation and growth of bubbles. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000 Dec;279(6):R2317-28. [11080100]
  3. Gallagher SA, Hackett PH. High-altitude illness. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2004 May;22(2):329-55, viii. Review. [15163571]
  4. Gertsch JH, Basnyat B, Johnson EW, Onopa J, Holck PS. Randomised, double blind, placebo controlled comparison of ginkgo biloba and acetazolamide for prevention of acute mountain sickness among Himalayan trekkers: the prevention of high altitude illness trial (PHAIT). BMJ. 2004 Apr 3;328(7443):797. [15070635]
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