Background: Testing the hypoxic ventilatory response (HVR) at low-altitude helps to detect those who do not hyperventilate appropriately in hypoxia but might not necessarily predict the HVR and the risk to develop acute mountain sickness (AMS) at high altitude. However, a low HVR seems to be particularly prevalent in individuals susceptible to high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE+). In this short communication, we assessed differences in physiological parameters in two comparable women before and 3 hours after exposure to 3,480 meters. One woman had a (clinically diagnosed) history of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE+) while the other did well at previous exposures to high altitude (HAPE-).
Methods: Heart rate, blood pressure, ventilation, arterial blood gas variables, arterial haemoglobin saturation, haemoglobin concentration, arterial oxygen content and delta plasma volume were measured or calculated before and after arrival at high altitude.
Results: At high altitude, plasma volume decreased in the HAPE- woman which in turn increased haemoglobin concentration. Ventilation was elevated in the HAPE- but not in the HAPE + woman. Arterial oxygen content fell in the HAPE + while it was preserved in the HAPE- woman. This resulted from lower peripheral oxygen saturation (-35%), lower haemoglobin concentration (-12%) and lower arterial partial pressure of oxygen (-59%) in the HAPE+.
Conclusion: Considerable haemoglobin desaturation and lack of haemoconcentration were characteristics of the HAPE + woman when exposed to high altitude, while the higher arterial oxygen content in the HAPE- woman was related to both haemoconcentration and hyperventilation (and associated haemoglobin saturation).