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We already learned that high-altitude mountaineering can seriously hurt your brain, so if you’re still regularly bagging ultra high peaks, this next bit of bad news is unlikely to change your mind: Doctors have recorded the lowest blood-oxygen levels ever in climbers on Mt. Everest.
Doctors from University College London led the Caudwell Xtreme Everest team to 27,700 feet, not far below the summit of the world’s highest peak. Once there, four unlucky team members unzipped their down suits and drew blood samples from the femoral artery in their groin. That kind of sounds worse than cerebral edema.
Once doctors got the sample to their ad-hoc lab at 21,000 feet, they measured exactly how low the oxygen levels were in the blood. While scientists think fluid in the lungs might keep climbers from absorbing enough oxygen, they didn’t conduct the experiment just to aid climbers in pursuit of high peaks; instead, the research could help doctors cope with a whole host of afflictions at sea level.
“By observing healthy individuals at high altitude where oxygen is scarce, we can learn about physiological changes that can improve critical care at the hospital bedside, because low oxygen levels are an almost universal problem in critical care,” UCL doctor and expedition leader Mike Grocott said.
“These extraordinary low levels of oxygen found in high-altitude climbers may cause doctors looking after critically ill patients to revaluate treatment goals in some patients who have been ill for some time and might have adapted to low levels of oxygen in the blood.”
Many climbers describe Everest as an overrated tourist peak, but these four climbers disproved the rule. Anyone who exposes their crotch at high altitude in the service of science and saving lives earns a hardman award in our book.
Everest climbers log lowest blood oxygen levels on record (AFP)