Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mountain climbing without the headaches

Date:
April 4, 2014
Source:
IM Publications
Summary:
By monitoring blood flow in the brains of six climbers scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, German medical researchers have identified a possible way to prevent the headaches that are a common feature of altitude sickness.

By monitoring blood flow in the brains of six climbers scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, German medical researchers have identified a possible way to prevent the headaches that are a common feature of altitude sickness. This work appears in the latest issue of JNIRS -- Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy.

Other features of altitude sickness include fatigue, digestive problems, weakness and dizziness. They are all caused by the decrease in the partial pressure of oxygen at altitudes above around 2500 m, as the number of oxygen molecules in a given volume drops. This produces an associated decrease in the concentration of oxygen in the blood and results in less oxygen reaching the brain. After a few days, most people naturally acclimatise and the symptoms of altitude sickness disappear.

Breathing patterns can also be affected by the fall in the partial pressure of oxygen at high altitudes. This doesn't tend to be noticeable when awake, because climbers consciously regulate their breathing. When sleeping at high altitudes, however, climbers tend to alternate between rapid, deep breathing (hyperventilation) and then much slower, shallower breathing (hypoventilation), sometimes briefly stopping breathing altogether (apnoea), with each cycle lasting for around 30 seconds. This is all down to how the body reacts to varying concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood.

"The lack of oxygen at high altitude causes the climbers to hyperventilate, which leads to a decline of CO2 in the blood," explains Peter Stein, who is in the department of anesthesiology, intensive care medicine and pain therapy at University Hospital Frankfurt. "The decline of CO2 leads to episodes of hypoventilation or even apnoea when the conscious breathing control subsides during sleep. As a consequence the oxygen level drops, causing an arousal and subsequent hyperventilation."

Stein and his colleagues wanted to discover whether this abnormal breathing pattern was reducing the supply of oxygen to the brain, potentially worsening the effects of altitude sickness. To find out, they turned to NIR spectroscopy, an analytical technique that detects specific molecules based on their absorption and reflection of light at near infrared wavelengths. Specifically, Stein and his colleagues wanted to use NIR spectroscopy to monitor changes in the concentration of haemoglobin, both oxygenated and deoxygenated, in the blood supply to the brain.

So they accompanied six climbers as they scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5895 m above sea level, attaching NIR electrodes to the climbers' foreheads while they slept to monitor haemoglobin concentrations. "The most challenging part was to transport not only the NIR spectroscope into basecamp but also all the equipment necessary to provide electricity," says Stein. "Therefore we bought a lightweight generator and enough fuel to provide power throughout all the nights."

What they discovered was that the abnormal breathing pattern caused periodic changes in the concentration of oxygenated haemoglobin and total haemoglobin, but not in the concentration of deoxygenated haemoglobin. This indicates that although the abnormal breathing pattern did alter the flow of blood into the climbers' brains, it didn't reduce the amount of oxygen reaching their brain tissue.

The researchers also discovered, however, that those climbers experiencing the most extreme periodic changes in haemoglobin concentrations in the brain as they slept were also those that suffered most from headaches at high altitudes. This suggests that one simple approach to preventing these headaches is to find ways to stop the abnormal breathing that occurs when sleeping at high altitudes.

"Our experiments reveal a pathomechanism contributing to the aetiology of the most common symptom of altitude sickness: headache," says Stein. "I hope that based on our findings it will be possible to develop new therapeutic approaches that help to increase comfort and safety for climbers in the future."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by IM Publications. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Peter Stein, Anne Lampe, Andreas Pape, Kai Zacharowski, Robert Hudek, Christian Weber. Sleeping on Mt Kilimanjaro–The influence of hypobaric hypoxia on brain perfusion and cerebral tissue oxygenation. Journal of Near Infrared Spectroscopy, 2014; 22 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1255/jnirs.1088

Cite This Page:

IM Publications. "Mountain climbing without the headaches." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140404085639.htm>.
IM Publications. (2014, April 4). Mountain climbing without the headaches. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140404085639.htm
IM Publications. "Mountain climbing without the headaches." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140404085639.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) — A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) — Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) — A study by King's College London says there's a link between how well kids draw at age 4 and how intelligent they are later in life. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins