Soroche? what is it and how to prevent it?

👤 Carlos Jaramillo
📝 Comment
📅 February 9, 2023
Mountain sickness

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Mountain sickness

Mountain sickness as it is popularly called or Soroche comes from the Quechua language suruqchi or suruqch. It is the lack of adaptation of our body to the lack of oxygen at altitude, that is, this disorder is directly related to the speed of ascent and conversely these symptoms usually disappear when descending.

Its main cause is lack of oxygen (hypoxia), this is caused by the atmospheric pressure which decreases with altitude, affecting mainly the pulmonary alveoli; since these are not able to transport the same amount of oxygen to the blood because as the altitude increases, the percentage of oxygen in the air remains constant, but the atmospheric pressure decreases, which causes the air to become thinner, so there is less oxygen available.

This disorder occurs at altitudes around 2500 to the so-called death zone at 7500 MSNM altitude. This altitude sickness is caused by exposure to hypoxia and is more frequent in people under fifty years of age and in residents living at altitudes of less than 1000 meters.

Most people can ascend between 1500 and 2000 m in a day without problems, but approximately 20% of people who ascend up to 2500 m and 40% of those who ascend up to 3000 m suffer from some form of altitude sickness.

Destinations in Colombia above 1,500-2,000 MSNM

  • Bogotá 2,650 masl
  • Guatavita, Cundinamarca 2,700 meters above sea level
  • Villa de Leyva, Boyacá 2,150 meters above sea level.
  • Suesca 2,584 meters above sea level
  • Monguí 2,900 masl

Mountain sickness can develop at lower altitudes in very sensitive people. Symptoms usually appear 6-10 hours after ascent and often include headache, and one or more of the following symptoms: feeling faint, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, weakness or irritability.

Some people describe the symptoms as similar to those of a hangover; symptoms usually last 24 to 48 hours. Rarely, acute mountain sickness can progress to a more severe type of altitude sickness, called cerebral edema.

The organs most frequently affected by altitude sickness are

- The brain
- Lungs

High altitude edema rarely occurs in these organs.

Edemas are the accumulation of liquids that usually appear between 24 and 96 hours after a rapid ascent to more than 2500 m of altitude.

Possible risk factors

The potential risks of mountain sickness vary greatly from person to person. But in general, the risk increases with:
- Suffering from previous altitude illness
- Living at sea level or at a very low altitude (below 900 meters)
- Climbing to high altitude too fast
- Overexertion
- Sleeping too high

Air conditioning

Over time, the body adapts (acclimatization) to higher altitudes by increasing respiration and producing more red blood cells (erythrocytes) to transport oxygen to the tissues, as well as making other adaptations.

Most people suffering from mountain sickness can adapt to altitudes up to 3000 m in a few days. Adapting to higher altitudes requires many days or even weeks, but some people can, over time, carry out almost all normal activities at altitudes above 5300 m (15,000 ft). However, no one can fully acclimatize to living permanently above that altitude.

Did you know?

Mountain sickness is caused by a lack of oxygen at high altitudes.

- Symptoms include headache, tiredness, nausea or loss of appetite, irritability and, in more severe cases, respiratory distress, confusion and even coma.
- The physician diagnoses altitude sickness based primarily on symptoms.
- Treatment may include rest, descent to a lower altitude, and sometimes drug treatment, additional oxygen administration, or both.
- These disorders can be prevented by gradual ascending and sometimes by taking medication.


Rate of ascent

The best way to prevent mountain sickness is to ascend slowly. The altitude at which a person sleeps is more important than the maximum altitude reached during the day. Controlling the rate of ascent (known as gradual ascent) is essential for any activity above 2500 meters.

Above 3000 meters, climbers or hikers should not increase the altitude at which they sleep more than 300-500 meters per day, and should include a rest day (sleeping at the same altitude) every 3 or 4 nights before sleeping at higher altitudes.
If they cannot limit their daily ascent to less than 500 meters, they should limit their average ascent during the entire ascent to less than 500 meters per day. The latter may require the addition of rest days. During rest days you may ascend to higher altitudes, as long as you return to the lower level to sleep.

The symptoms of mountain sickness can be confused with a hangover, physical exhaustion, a migraine or a viral illness.

General measures

Avoiding strenuous exertion for a day or two after arrival may help prevent altitude sickness. Excessive alcohol consumption, opiates and sedatives should also be avoided, especially shortly before going to sleep.
Regular caffeine drinkers should be aware of the possibility of caffeine withdrawal-related headaches if they stop consuming caffeine during this period.
Although a good physical capacity allows a greater effort at altitude, it does not protect against any form of this disease.

When climbing

- Do not consume alcohol
- Do not drink too much liquid
- Eat regular meals that are rich in carbohydrates.
- You should avoid high altitudes if you have heart or lung disease.

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