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Vol. 64, No. 6, 1997
Issue release date: 1997
Respiration 1997;64:429–434

Pulmonary Circulation at High Altitude

Naeije R.
Department of Intensive Care, Erasme Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium

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Hypoxia constricts the pulmonary vessels. An increase in pulmonary vascular resistance is seen in normal subjects during hypoxic breathing at sea level, in acclimatized lowlanders and in high-altitude natives. Hypoxic pulmonary hypertension in all these circumstances is most generally moderate, except in high-altitude natives at exercise. Pulmonary hypertension may become severe during high-altitude pulmonary edema, during infantile or adult forms of sub-acute mountain sickness, and during chronic mountain sickness. Subacute and chronic mountain sickness may be associated with a right heart failure that would be the human counterpart of brisket disease described in cattle. Subjects susceptible to high-altitude pulmonary edema present with a slight increase in pulmonary vascular resistance at rest and at exercise, and often with an enhanced pulmonary vascular reactivity to hypoxia. However, compared to unselected controls, the overlap is great, so that noninvasive echo-Doppler studies of the pulmonary circulation at sea level are of little predictive value of tolerance to altitudes on an individual basis.

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