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Are high altitudes unsafe for some people?

If you're traveling within the United States to elevations of 8,000 feet or more, there are reasons to see your doctor. If you’re using oxygen for certain heart disease, you really need to see your doctor before going to higher elevations, which can be pretty stressful on the body.

Further, there are also conditions that are associated with high elevation such as altitude sickness. You can do certain things to make altitude sickness less likely to occur, such as avoiding alcohol. There are also special medications that can help you cope with altitude sickness.

High altitudes are not safe for some people. If you have heart disease, kidney disease, or sickle cell anemia, you should avoid high altitudes.

Diabetics can go to high altitudes but should closely monitor their blood glucose levels. Glucose monitors may be negatively affected by high altitude, and altitude sickness may trigger a serious condition - known as ketoacidosis - hich is caused by a lack of insulin.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends pregnant women avoid attempts at ascending to more than 12,000 feet (3,657.6 m). How altitude sickness affects fetuses is not yet known, but there are concerns that leakage from blood vessels could harm fetuses.

High altitudes are unsafe for some people in that high altitudes are associated with decreased oxygen levels especially above 8,000 feet. Patients who have lung disease or reactive airway disease may develop headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain, and weakness. This is especially true for patients who have a condition called "pulmonary hypertension." This risk increases especially above 8,000 feet and patients who are concerned about their lung condition should be checked by their doctors before they exceed the 8,000 foot threshold. This is one reason why planes are pressurized with oxygen because they fly at altitudes much higher than 8,000 feet and the oxygen levels would be too low for patients to survive if they did not have supplemental oxygen in the airstream within the plane. That is also why patients may carry supplemental oxygen on planes if they have severe lung disease.
 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.