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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

COPD and high altitude sickness

03/04/2008

Question:

My father is 67 years old and he is suffering from COPD. His situation is not severe and although he is taking every day some air pressured medicines and 1 pill (rythmonrm) for the heart in generall he is very active, he is travelling all over the world and he is doing everything than a person of his age can do and even more.

My concern is that this time he is planing to visit Peru and especially all the places where high altitude sickness is prone. His doctor told him he can go and that he is risking to have the same symptoms as any other healthy person but I am not sure about that. What is your opinion? It is wise to go to places like Puno (4000 m) and Cusco the seame? Anf if he can go it will be of grat help if he had with him some portable oxygen? Please could you advise me about medicines to prevent or lower the symptoms of this sickness that can be suitable for a COPD aged person ?

Thank you so much in advance

Answer:

There are two separate issues here. One has to do with low oxygen levels in individuals with COPD. If he is pretty active, has had relatively normal oxygen levels in the past and his doctor is not all that concerned about his potential symptoms, it would probably be okay for him to take the trip without oxygen.

However, if you'd like to be certain, there is a particular test that can be done to assess the blood oxygen level, and to evaluate the need for supplemental oxygen under the circumstances of high altitude or during a flight. The test is called "high altitude hypoxemia" measurement. This test can simulate the oxygen level that might be encountered at high altitude. Again, though, if his oxygen level is fairly normal at sea level, it may not be necessary to do this test.

The other issue relates to high altitude or "mountain sickness". This can happen in anyone and it is likely, given his overall functional status, that he could tolerate the medicines used to prevent this condition.

For more information:

Go to the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Mahasti   Rittinger, RRT Mahasti Rittinger, RRT
Clinical Program Manager of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Phillip T Diaz, MD Phillip T Diaz, MD
Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University