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The Brain

The brain is affected by altitude because it needs a good supply of oxygen and may swell causing pressure.

High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE) is caused by brain swelling and can kill very quickly if not treated.

Some people feel no effects. Others may suffer any (or all) of the following:

  • Headaches – very common at altitude, especially if you suffer headaches or migraine at home.
  • Loss of balance – co-ordination and balance may be affected. Older people and those who are acclimatised feel less effect. ‘Clumsiness’ and bad judgements increase the risk of accidents.
  • Mood changes – on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ there will be good days and bad days. Bad days can trigger disappointment and depression. Be prepared for mood swings!
  • AMS / HACE – see other pages.
  • Stroke – developing sight or speech problems and / or a weak arm, leg or face are signs of a stroke. (Some migraine sufferers have similar effects during an ‘aura’).

Headache (AMS) avoid triggers - dehydration, exhaustion, alcohol - treat with painkillers.

Stroke - treat with ½ a 300mg aspirin & descend. See a doctor.

Be honest about how you feel.

Learn the signs of HACE & stroke.

Prepare medical supplies.

Consider expectations / fears and who will support you on bad days.

I set off at the back, with a sore head, coughing. My cough and head got worse. A ‘drag’ feeling began in my mouth. When I met the others, I plucked up the courage to ask if ‘my speech was slurred’. The shock hit me. I had heard myself mumble incoherently. They looked horrified, my words just dribbled out, I couldn’t use my left arm, no power, my left hand tingled, the left of my face was paralysed and my head sore. I was done for!!! Expert medical care and rapid descent saved my life.

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