Autonomic cardiovascular responses in acclimatized lowlanders on prolonged stay at high altitude

A longitudinal follow up study

Citation: Dhar P, Sharma VK, Hota KB, Das SK, Hota SK, et al. (2014) Autonomic Cardiovascular Responses in Acclimatized Lowlanders on Prolonged Stay at High Altitude: A Longitudinal Follow Up Study. PLoS ONE 9(1): e84274. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084274
Published: January 3, 2014

Acute exposure to hypobaric hypoxia at high altitude is reported to cause sympathetic dominance that may contribute to the pathophysiology of high altitude illnesses. The effect of prolonged stay at high altitude on autonomic functions, however, remains to be explored. Thus, the present study aimed at investigating the effect of high altitude on autonomic neural control of cardiovascular responses by monitoring heart rate variability (HRV) during chronic hypobaric hypoxia. Baseline electrocardiography (ECG) data was acquired from the volunteers at mean sea level (MSL) (<250 m) in Rajasthan. Following induction of the study population to high altitude (4500–4800 m) in Ladakh region, ECG data was acquired from the volunteers after 6 months (ALL 6) and 18 months of induction (ALL 18). Out of 159 volunteers who underwent complete investigation during acquisition of baseline data, we have only included the data of 104 volunteers who constantly stayed at high altitude for 18 months to complete the final follow up after 18 months. HRV parameters, physiological indices and biochemical changes in serum were investigated. Our results show sympathetic hyperactivation along with compromise in parasympathetic activity in ALL 6 and ALL 18 when compared to baseline data. Reduction of sympathetic activity and increased parasympathetic response was however observed in ALL 18 when compared to ALL 6. Our findings suggest that autonomic response is regulated by two distinct mechanisms in the ALL 6 and ALL 18. While the autonomic alterations in the ALL 6 group could be attributed to increased sympathetic activity resulting from increased plasma catecholamine concentration, the sympathetic activity in ALL 18 group is associated with increased concentration of serum coronary risk factors and elevated homocysteine. These findings have important clinical implications in assessment of susceptibility to cardio-vascular risks in acclimatized lowlanders staying for prolonged duration at high altitude.

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