Low amount of oxygen at mountain peaks decreases the volume of blood circulating around the body, and increases blood pressure in the lungs, resulting in reduced heart function at high altitudes, say researchers.
However, the researchers also found that while both these factors impact blood flow, it surprisingly does not impact the body’s ability to exercise to its fullest extent.
The findings will be important for people who live, travel and exercise at high altitudes.
The research improves our understanding of how the human body adapts to high altitude areas and will help us make exploration and tourism of Earth’s mountainous regions safer, and may also help facilitate exercise performance in a wide range of sporting events that take place at high altitude, said researchers led by Michael Stembridge, from the Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales, Britain
“We hope to apply the findings of this work to help improve the health and well-being of these populations by furthering our understanding of the condition and exploring therapeutic targets,” he said.
Many people who visit high altitudes suffer from “Chronic Mountain Sickness”, which occurs when there is lower oxygen pressure present. It results in shortness of breath, headache, and a fast heartbeat.
For the research, published in The Journal of Physiology, the team collected data of a small group on how the heart and pulmonary blood vessels adapt to life with less oxygen.
The researchers and participants conducted the study during two weeks at a remote research facility in California.
Furthermore, echocardiography was used to assess cardiac and pulmonary vascular function which is non-invasive and indirect.