Posted by: R. Douglas Fields | October 29, 2009

Brain Damage from High Altitude Mountaineering

13 rdf photo rainier doug mug low res

The author in thin air

Are the Mountains Killing Your Brain?
Alarming new science shows that thin air can wreck brain cells—at lower altitudes than you’d think. Here’s how to protect yourself.

Douglas Fields
“YOU HAVE TO BE poco loco to be a climber,” says Dr. Nicholás Fayed. A neuroradiologist at the Clinica Quirón de Zaragoza, in northern Spain, Dr. Fayed leads me into his office and pulls out a collection of MRI images. They’re brain scans, taken from amateur and professional mountain climbers after they came back from major expeditions, and the results aren’t pretty.
“Atrophy of the frontal lobes,” Fayed says, pointing to a black-and-white slice of brain on one MRI. The frontal cortex—the region just behind the forehead that handles higher-level mental functions—looks like a piece of dried fruit. This kind of damage can leave patients with an impaired ability to plan, focus, and make complex decisions. And it’s permanent…

See:  Outside Magazine


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