Mountain climbing expeditions may bring rewards to any sport enthusiast. However it entails many hazards as well. High altitude cerebral edema (HACE), manifesting from high altitude sickness, is an erratic and hidden from eyesight condition which researchers from the University Medical Center’s Department of Neuroradiology in Goettingen, Germany, are claiming could leave traces of bleeding in the brain years after the initial incident.
Typically, HACE is a severe and often fatal condition that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers and travellers at high altitudes—typically above 7,000 feet, or 2,300 meters. It results from swelling of brain tissue due to leakage of fluids from the capillaries. Symptoms include headache, loss of coordination and decreasing levels of consciousness.
The study involved comparing brain MRI findings among four groups of mountaineers: climbers with well documented episodes of HACE; climbers with a history of high altitude illness; climbers with a history of severe acute mountain sickness (AMS); and climbers with a history of isolated high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE), a life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs that occurs at high altitudes. Two neuro-radiologists assessed the brain MRI findings using a special susceptibility-weighted imaging technique without knowing the status of the mountaineers and assigned a score based on the number and location of any micro-haemorrhages.
The MRI results showed brain micro-haemorrhages almost exclusively in HACE survivors. Of the 10 climbers with a history of HACE, eight had evidence of micro-haemorrhages on MRI. The other two had uncertain results. Only two of the remaining 26 climbers were positive for micro-haemorrhages.
The conclusion might be ambiguous and needs more analysis. But the researchers existing study positively suggests that HACE survivors do not need to completely give up climbing. They must progressively acclimatise to intermediate altitudes to reach extreme altitude.