Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness explained

Kilimanjaro Altitude sickness explained

Kilimanjaro Altitude sickness will affect about 75% of all hikers hiking up the mountain. Most hikers will experience mild symptoms. Symptoms will include headache, nausea, and vomiting. A few hikers may get more severe symptoms. Because it not possible to predict who will get altitude sickness, you must familiarize yourself with it. Our guides will monitor you during the hike. If you become at risk, will they recommend that you stop the hike.

Hiking up the mountain is a once in a life time experience. It is a trip that you will cherish for the rest of your life. There are some risks involved, the most common is altitude sickness.

What is high altitude?

It is impossible to predict who will get altitude sickness since it doesn’t depend on age, sex, or fitness levels. Some hikers are simply more likely to get it than others.

High altitudes is considered to be from 2 500m (8 000ft) to 4 000m (13 000ft)

Very high altitudes is considered to be from 4 000m (13 000ft) to 5 500m (18 000ft)

Extremely high altitudes is considered to be over 5 500m (18 000 ft)

What causes Kilimanjaro altitude sickness

At sea level, oxygen makes up about 21% of the air, and the pressure is around 760 mmHg. As you go higher, the oxygen percentage stays the same, but there are fewer oxygen molecules in each breath. At 3 600m (12 000ft), the pressure drops to about 480 mmHg, and there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. The body must to adjust to the lower oxygen levels.

Lower air pressure may cause fluid leak from capillaries into the lungs or brain. This can lead to fluid build-up in the lungs or brain. Ascending further without proper acclimatization can be very dangerous.

Acclimatization – Kilimanjaro altitude sickness

Ascending too quickly is the main cause of Kilimanjaro altitude sickness. Your body can adapt to lower oxygen levels if given enough time through a process called acclimatization. For example, if you climb to 3,000 meters and stay there for several days, your body will adjust. If you then climb to 4,000 meters, your body will need time to adjust to the higher altitude again.

The body makes several adjustments to cope with the decreased oxygen levels:

  • Breathing becomes deeper.
  • More red blood cells are produced by the body to carry oxygen.
  • Pressure in lung capillaries increases, sending blood to parts of the lungs not usually used at sea level.
  • The body produces more enzymes to release oxygen from hemoglobin to body tissues.

Acute Mountain sickness (AMS)

AMS is common at high altitudes above 3,000 meters (10,000 feet). About 75% of hikers will suffer from mild AMS. The chances of getting Kilimanjaro Altitude sickness depends on the altitude, ascent rate, and individual proneness.

Symptoms of mild AMS may include: headache, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, fatigue, shortness of breath, disturbed sleep and general malaise.

Symptoms are often worse at night and when breathing slows. If symptoms are mild and only a nuisance, it is safe to continue ascending at a slow pace. It is important to inform your guide of any symptoms you might have.

Moderate AMS

Signs and symptoms of moderate Kilimanjaro altitude sickness include:

  • Severe headache not relieved by medication
  • Nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased coordination (ataxia)

Normal activity becomes difficult, but the person will still be able to walk. At this stage, only advanced medications or rapid descend can reverse the problem. Descending only 300m (1 000ft) will bring relief and improvement. Staying 24 hours at the lower altitude will result in improvement. The person should stay at the lower altitude until all symptoms have gone. It is important to descend before the condition prevents walking, which would require a stretcher evacuation.

Severe AMS

Severe AMS increase the previous symptoms and includes:

  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Unable to walk
  • Decreasing mental status
  • Fluid buildup in the lungs

You will need to descend immediately by about 600 meters (2,000 feet) to a lower altitude.

Severe Kilimanjaro Altitude sickness can develop into two serious conditions:

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) results from fluid build up in the lungs.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) result of the swelling of brain tissue from fluid leakage.

Both HAPE and HACE occur rarely, especially in hikers who are properly acclimatized. This occur in hikers who ascend too fast or stay at very high altitudes. Both conditions involve fluid leaking into the lungs or brain due to a lack of oxygen.

Kilimanjaro Altitude sickness will affect about 75% of all hikers on the mountain. It is important to understand the risks of altitude sickness.