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Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neurological changes after a single high altitude climb


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 1999 - Volume 31 - Issue 7 - p 969-972
Clinical Sciences: Clinically Relevant

Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neurological changes after a single high altitude climb. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 31, No. 7, pp. 969-972, 1999.

Purpose: Neurological impairment, mental dysfunction, and brain imaging changes caused by severe hypoxia have been described by several authors. However, the occurrence of transitory, long lasting, or permanent brain damage has been debated. Although climbing to 8000 m is reserved to a small number of climbers, there are hundreds of lowlanders spending relatively short holidays climbing peaks up to 6000 m in the Andes or in the Himalayas. They are usually not well acclimated and often suffer from acute mountain sickness (AMS). The aim of this study was to examine the effect of a single high altitude exposure on the changes in brain MRI and neuropsychological testing in climbers.

Methods: Brain MRI, medical history, and a battery of neuropsychological tests were obtained in eight male climbers between 31 and 48 yr of age a few days before and between 5 and 10 d after returning to sea level following ascent to altitudes of over 6000 m without oxygen.

Results: The mean AMS symptom score recorded at 5500 m was three in all climbers, headache being the predominant symptom.

Conclusion: We did not observe the changes in brain imaging and in neuropsychological testing observed by other authors. The residual central nervous system impairment following return from high altitude was not observed in our study, and the good results in neuropsychological testing were well correlated with the unchanged brain MRI imaging.

Departments of Radiology and Anesthesiology, Hôpital des Enfants Reine Fabiola and Hôpital Brugmann, Brussels, BELGIUM; and Departments of Radiology and Anesthesiology, Hôpital Cantonal de Genève, SWITZERLAND

Submitted for publication September 1998.

Accepted for publication October 1998.

Address for correspondence: Mehrak Anooshiravani, Department of Radiology, Geneva University Hospital, Rue Micheli du Crest, 24, CH-1211 Geneva 14, Switzerland. E-mail:

© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.