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Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Hiking at Altitude While Pregnant

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If someone is pregnant and wishes to hike for a few days at high altitude, is this safe?

There is not a tremendous amount of information available about the effects of a brief sojourn to altitude during pregnancy. A significant decrease in the amount of oxygen available to the baby (fetus) would only be expected at extreme altitude or if the mother were to suffer from high altitude pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), a severe asthma attack, or something else that would serously affect her ability to breathe and transfer oxygen into her bloodstream. If a woman has a complicated preganancy in which her obstetrician has advised caution or restrictions beyond those associated with a normal pregnancy, she should probably not hike higher than an altitude of 12,000 feet. If for any reason a pregnant woman suffers from high blood pressure, she may be at increased risk for suffering preeclampsia (a very serious affliction in which accelerated high blood pressure is associated with premature labor), although this has not been proven definitely (this caution derives from the observation that pregnancy-induced high blood pressure is more common in women who live at high altitude than in "lowland" women).

A real risk is that of being remote from medical care, if your journey will take a pregnant woman into the wilderness where she cannot seek immediate attention should she need to do so. It would probably be wise for any pregnant woman to visit her obstetrician immediately prior to any extended or unusual travels in order to be certain that all is well with her pregnancy.

photo by Terry Johnson

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Tags: Climbing High

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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