Altitude sickness peaks in Ladakh - Asia - World - The Independent

Altitude sickness peaks in Ladakh

But just why this Himalayan region makes people so ill is baffling scientists

For trekkers and mountaineers, scientists have issued a mysterious warning. The worst place in the world for altitude sickness is Ladakh, the stark, beautiful region on India's northern border with China and Tibet – and nobody knows exactly why.

Ladakh, literally "the land of high passes", lies between the Himalayas and the Kunlun mountain range at a height of more than 3,000 metres (9,800 feet). It is a high-altitude desert which has become a popular destination for adventure travellers in the last decade, drawn by its remote culture and extraordinary panoramas.

Now the largest study of visitors to mountainous regions around the world who were previously assessed for their vulnerability to altitude sickness has found that Ladakh presented the biggest threat.

Jean-Paul Richalet, professor of physiology at the University of Paris North, who led the study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, said: "When adjusted for all other risk factors, especially rate of ascent, one location – Ladakh – remained associated with a higher risk of severe high-altitude illness."

But the researchers were unable to identify why the region had the greatest impact. "No clear explanation, linked to the climate or the difficulty of the terrain is available, although many informal reports mention the higher risk of this location," Dr Richalat said. The researchers assessed more than 1,300 people who planned excursions to mountainous areas which involved at least three days above 4,000 metres, and sleeping overnight above 3,500 metres.

Before they left, they were given a series of tests to measure their breathing and heart rate at low-oxygen levels – to mimic the effects of high altitude – and the results were compared with their actual experience after they returned from their trip.

Almost one in four (318) suffered a severe altitude illness with symptoms of headache, nausea, fatigue and dizziness, associated in the some cases with swelling of tissue in the lungs and brain.

The study is the first to suggest an association between the geographical location of ascent and altitude sickness. The drug acetazolamide (Diamox) cut the risk of developing the condition among the participants by 44 per cent, the study found. Neverthleless, among the 318 who developed altitude sickness, a third (105) had used Diamox.

The research revealed potential risk factors for altitude sickness. Participants who experienced a significant reduction in the amount of oxygen in the blood when exercising in a low-oxygen environment were more likely to develop symptoms.

A common experience at altitude is how breathing fails to keep pace with the demands of the body which triggers involuntary gasps for air and a feeling of suffocation. A conscious effort to breathe faster and deeper is necessary as part of acclimatisation.

But getting fit is no defence against altitude sickness. The study found that those who took most exercise to prepare for their trip were at increased risk from the condition. "Those who visit high altitudes should realise intense aerobic training is not a predictor of success in high-altitude expeditions," Dr Richalet said.

Life and Style
tech
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (upgrades, rollouts, migrations)

£350 - £425 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Project Manager - 3 mont...

IT Administrator - Graduate

£18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

Primary Teachers needed in Winsford

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in...

Exam Invigilators needed in North Wales

£45 - £50 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Randstad Education are currentl...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week