High altitude chest problems

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  • #35049

    I recently just came back from a trip in Ecuador where I did the following:
    Day 1 – acclimated in Quito (2900m)
    Day 2 – took the cable car up the mountain for 3 hours (4000m)
    Day 3 – summited ruco pichincha (4700m)
    Day 4-7 – sick due to a bacterial infection from what I ate
    Slept in Quito all of these nights
    Day 8 – summited iliniza norte (5126m), slept at 3500m
    Day 9 – slept at cotopaxi Refuge, 4800m
    Day 10 – summited cotopaxi, 5897m, slept in quito, 2900m
    Day 11 – hike around quilotoa lake, 4000m, slept at 4000m
    Day 12 – slept at chimborazo Refuge, 4800m
    Day 13 – summited chimborazo, 6310m

    Although my stomach never fully recovered during the trip, I felt really strong before chimborazo and didnt feel the effects of altitude at all. I had trained with the 16 week mountaineering training plan and hardly missed a single day. I summited cotopaxi in only 4.45 minutes as my guide had a pretty fast pace and was fine.

    Chimborazo though was different. During the night I kept waking up as I was drifting off, gasping for breath. I’ve heard this is quite normal but was a first for me and didnt allow me to sleep at all.

    We summited chimborazo in 6.45 minutes from the lower hut, taking the long route up as el Castillo was too dangerous due to rock fall. The guide wanted to summit in 7 hours and I struggled to keep up and was tiring myself out I felt. When I started to go down, I began to feel the effects of the altitude and felt nauseas plus my stomach problems had returned. I felt dizzy and confused but had felt like this before so wasnt too worried. When we got to the hut, I got in the car, fell asleep and when we woke up in riobamba which is the closest town from the mountain at 3000m, I had a terrible chest pain that wouldnt go away so I went to a clinic and they gave me oxygen and said I had a high blood pressure and my bronchials had shrunken a bit but it wasnt any serious. My oxygen saturation was 92%.

    The clinic I went to didnt specialise in high altitude or anything so I had a few questions:

    Is chest pain common after going to a high altitude?
    Is it dangerous at all?
    Could my prior sickness be related to it at all?
    As I was sick, I had to cram the mountains together a bit. Did I summit chimborazo without enough time to acclimate?
    The only thing I could find about chest pains online was related to pulmonary edema which the doctor ensures me I didnt have at all. What are your thoughts?

    Apologies if I’ve gone on a bit but I just wanted to know whatever knowledge you have on this as the pain was really sharp but after 4 hours on oxygen and some pain relief medicine, the pain completely went but I still dont know what it was.


Posted In: Mountaineering

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    Anonymous on #35099


    Whew. What a trip. I think you should be feeling great about getting all the climbing done while so sick. The difficulty breathing at night is called Cheynes-Stokes breathing and is very common when one is not acclimated. So that’s a sign that you were pushing things. My guess that fatigue was catching up with you on your last climb and that made the symptoms worse.

    You certainly had all the classic signs of AMS on the decent and car ride back to town.

    Chest pain is not normal with altitude though. I’m no doc so take this for what it is worth: Your symptoms sound a little like pulmonary hypertension. I’ve seen that in high altitude climbers fairly frequently. You might want to get this checked.


    jake.barber88 on #35108

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for your response. I’ll go to the doctors and get it checked out.

    I did a bit of reading online about pulmonary hypertension. Can being at high altitude temporarily cause it? I’m reading it’s about people who live at high altitude.

    You mention that you’ve seen it frequently. If it is the case that I have it, would going to high altitude in the future not be advisable?


    Anonymous on #35122

    IF and its a big if at this point because I am just speculating, Yes it could negatively impact your high altitude climbs. The most common treatment when on the mountain is to take Viagra which is a vasodilator. This usually works very well.


    jake.barber88 on #35152

    Hi Scott,

    Just to let you know I went to the doctors today and he reckons it’s a virus I contracted which could have caused the pain in my lungs. He said my lungs look perfect now which is good news.

    Just to add as well, I really love your plans. I’m going to attempt Ojos del salado and aconcagua next year so will upgrade to the 24 week plan. Amazing forum you have as well ?


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