Avalanches, vicious winds and sub-zero temperatures arent the only extremes endured by those who climb Mount Everest. Hypoxia, a lack of oxygen that can lead to cell death, also threatens. But a study of people ascending Mount Everests slopes suggests that some humans are especially tolerant of low oxygen levels, perhaps because their bodies use oxygen more efficiently. The findings, reported in the Jan. 8 New England Journal of Medicine
, could inform the treatment of critically ill patients struggling to breathe in hospitals.
The new work reports the lowest recorded blood oxygen levels in a nonhibernating mammal. It is also one of the first analyses to come out of a much larger investigation of more than 200 people who made the trek to Everest in an effort to understand how the body adapts to low oxygen levels.
Patients suffering from cystic fibrosis, septic shock and other critical ailments often have severely low levels of blood oxygen. Treatment often involves administering oxygen with a mask, or mechanically ventilating the lungs, a procedure that can do more harm than good, says Michael Grocott of University College London, lead author of the new study. But because the health of such patients is compromised and many variables are involved, studying the effect of low oxygen alone isnt easy.
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Click here to read the abstract of the findings from the New England Journal of Medicine