Does Your Heart Pine for the Mountains?

Dr. Steven Georgeson recently wrote an article for's Health and Wellness section titled Does Your Heart Pine for the Mountains?

While planning a trip to the Andes Mountains, I wondered about the effects of high altitudes on the heart. Are high mountain elevations bad for the heart? Are there beneficial effects to the heart and exercise fitness for those living at high elevations?

With ascension to higher elevations, a variety of illnesses can occur, including acute altitude sickness, high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE, fluid in the lungs, similar to congestive heart failure) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE, swelling of the brain). High altitude is defined as 4,900 to 11,500 feet (for example: Mount Washington, White Mountains, New Hampshire), very high altitude is 11,500 to 18,000 feet (ex, Pikes Peak, Rocky Mountains, Colorado) and extremely high altitude is greater than 18,000 feet (ex, Mount McKinley, Alaska). As altitude increases the available amount of oxygen progressively decreases until the "death zone" is reached at about 26,000 feet (for example at the summit of Mount Everest). In the death zone, the amount of oxygen is so low that life is not sustainable without the use of supplemental oxygen through oxygen tanks. In the body, the oxygen we breathe in is bound to hemoglobin, a compound found in red blood cells. The oxygen bound to hemoglobin is carried by the blood throughout the body and released for use. At sea level, oxygen optimally saturates the hemoglobin. At high altitudes, the oxygen saturation of hemoglobin drops significantly, and the body feels "oxygen deprived." This would be similar to being trapped in a smoke-filled room and not having enough oxygen to breathe. The body compensates for the lack of oxygen by increasing the breathing rate (hyperventilating), increasing the heart beat, increasing the amount of blood the heart pumps, producing more red blood cells and shunting blood away from nonessential functions (for example digestion is more difficult at high altitudes).

Read the full article on the TapInto website here.