Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is common at high altitudes, and depends on the elevation, the rate of ascent and individual susceptibility. Most visitors to Tibet will suffer from at least some symptoms that will generally disappear through acclimatization in several hours to several days.

Symptoms tend to be worse at night and include headache, dizziness, and lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, breathlessness and irritability. Difficulty sleeping is another common symptom, and many travelers have trouble sleeping for the first few days after arrival at Lhasa.

An altitude over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) is usually defined as high altitude. Since most places in Tibet are higher than this level. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also called Altitude Sickness is the biggest health risk to tourists traveling in Tibet. AMS is common at high altitudes due to the decreasing availability of oxygen. Most people will suffer differing degrees of symptoms at high elevation. The occurrence of AMS is dependent on the altitude, the ascent rate and individual physical condition. Symptoms of AMS include headache, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite and disturbed sleep. Most people will experience one or more AMS symptoms upon their arrival in Tibet. The symptoms will usually gradually decrease in severity during acclimatization. Mild AMS usually will not interfere with mild activity.

However, AMS can be very serious, with the most serious symptoms being High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which can be fatal. Symptoms of HAPE include weakness, shortness of breath, even at rest, impending suffocation at night, and a persistent productive cough with white, watery, or frothy fluid. Symptoms of HPCE may include headache, ataxia, weakness, hallucinations, psychotic behavior, coma and loss of memory. Both approach and strike at night and can be fatal! Immediate descent is the surest treatment.

AMS can be lessened or avoided with proper acclimatization, which will also ease and reduce AMS symptoms. A gradual ascent will allow your body to acclimatize to higher altitudes and the decreased oxygen supply. Go no higher 300 - 400 hundred meters (984 - 1,312 feet) daily and have a rest after each 1,000 meter (3280 feet) ascent. Medication also helps to prevent AMS. Mild AMS symptoms can be treated with proper medication. If medication does not relieve the symptoms, go to hospital or evacuate immediately to safe altitude!

The following precautions may help to prevent or lessen the effects of AMS:
01. Drink plenty of fluids (3 - 4 liters daily at least) and eat carbohydrate food to keep the body properly hydrated;
02. Do not over exert and only partake in light activity immediate after your arrival
03. Don't smoke, drink alcohol or take other depressants such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills. These will depress the respiratory drive and limit oxygen intake.
04. Avoid catching cold before you entering Tibet.

Preventive Medication
Diamox (Acetazolamide) has been found helpful. It allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygen supply. Since it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. The recommendation of the Himalayan Rescue Association Medical Clinic is 125 mg, twice a day (morning and night) but you are recommended to consult your physician for the prescription.

Before you go to Tibet.
Get as fit and healthy as possible, both physically and psychologically. Visitors having record of heart, lung, other organ problems or anemia should consult their doctor before making the decision to visit Tibet.

Who can't go to Tibet?
We suggest people who suffered from high blood pressure and severe heart disease not travel to Tibet.

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