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What is High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)?

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) occurs when higher altitudes -- and the resulting lower air pressure -- cause fluid to leak from blood vessels and to collect in the brain.

The brain is naturally surrounded by cranial fluid, but HACE introduces fluid inside the brain. HACE is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention. A person with HACE could become comatose and die, if not quickly treated.

High altitude cerebral edema is a form of severe altitude sickness. It is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the brain swells and ceases to function properly. Persons with this illness are often confused and have a decreased ability to think. They may not even recognize that they are ill. They may have confusion and appear lethargic, and they often experience a loss of coordination, causing a staggering walk that is similar to the way a person walks when very intoxicated on alcohol.
(This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program.)

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