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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

Effects of altitude on COPD

12/26/2008

Question:

My mother has copd she lives in an altitude of 4500 ft, she has about 18-20% lung capacity. She is currently having prednisone psycosis and on a vent in the hospital. They want us to move her down to a lower altitude to take her off the vent. *(my dad says he doesn`t believe there is a difference as long as she has oxygen) Q: what is the effect of going lower vs staying in high alt the Physics of it so he can understand.

Answer:

Thank you for visiting NetWellness and for your question. When COPD patients ascend to high altitudes, they often report increased symptoms of shortness of breath. People with COPD that require oxygen therapy for COPD at lower altitudes usually require more oxygen at higher altitudes. This is because the partial pressure of oxygen in the air is lower at high altitudes. The physics of this are known as the alveolar gas equation. This effect can usually be overcome with increasing oxygen.

People who live at high altitudes without lung disease become accustomed to the lower oxygen pressure. This simple concept becomes more complicated when someone has respiratory failure and is requiring mechanical ventilation. Descending to a lower altitudes with respiratory failure may require less oxygen.

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Response by:

Michael E Ezzie, MD Michael E Ezzie, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University