Emergency Medicine Book


High Altitude Cerebral Edema

Aka: High Altitude Cerebral Edema, HACE
  1. See Also
    1. High Altitude Related-Conditions
    2. High Altitude Sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness)
    3. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
    4. Portable Hyperbaric Chamber (Gamow Bag)
    5. Lake Louise Acute Mountain Sickness Score
  2. Pathophysiology
    1. Life-threatening complication of High Altitude Sickness
    2. Cerebral Blood Flow results from Hypoxemia response
      1. Disordered autoregulation of cerebral Hypertension may result in vasogenic cerebral edema
      2. Increased blood brain barrier permeability
    3. Course from mild Ataxia to death can occur within hours
  3. Symptoms
    1. See High Altitude Sickness
    2. Headache
    3. Fatigue
    4. Photophobia
  4. Signs
    1. See High Altitude Sickness
    2. Hypertension
    3. Truncal Ataxia
      1. Screening: Heal-Toe Walking in a straight line
      2. Difficult ambulation
    4. Altered Mental Status (confusion to coma)
      1. May rapidly evolve from drowsy to confusion to coma without active treatment (esp. descent)
      2. Hallucinations
  5. Diagnosis
    1. Criteria 1
      1. Mental status changes OR Ataxia and
      2. Acute Mountain Sickness criteria
    2. Criteria 2
      1. Mental status changes AND Ataxia
      2. Without Acute Mountain Sickness criteria
  6. Imaging (if available)
    1. Brain MRI
      1. Corpus Callosum edema
      2. Subcortical white matter edema
      3. Microhemorrhages with hemosiderin deposits may be seen months after recovery
  7. Management
    1. See High Altitude Sickness
    2. Gamow Bag
    3. Descend Immediately by at least 1000 meters (even 500 meters may be sufficient)
    4. Dexamethasone
      1. Initial: 8 mg IM/IV/PO Load
      2. Later: 4 mg every 6 hours IM/IV/PO
    5. High flow Supplemental Oxygen
      1. Keep Oxygen Saturation >90%
    6. Intubation and Hyperventilation if patient comatose
  8. References
    1. Comp and Rogich (2021) Crit Dec Emerg Med 35(4): 3-8
    2. Basnyat (2003) Lancet 361(9373): 1967-74 [PubMed]
    3. Fiore (2010) Am Fam Physician 82(9): 1103-10 [PubMed]
    4. Hackett (2001) N Engl J Med 345(2): 107-14 [PubMed]
    5. Wu (2006) High Alt Med Biol 7(4): 275-80 [PubMed]

High altitude cerebral edema (C0472390)

Concepts Disease or Syndrome (T047)
SnomedCT 230762003
English high altitude cerebral edema, high altitude cerebral oedema, High altitude cerebral edema, High altitude cerebral oedema, High altitude cerebral edema (disorder)
Spanish edema cerebral por la altura (trastorno), edema cerebral por la altura
Derived from the NIH UMLS (Unified Medical Language System)

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