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Raynaud’s and Altitude

Posted on: August 13th, 2009 by admin

Researcher Andrew Luks writes:

About a year and a half ago, the AAC assisted our efforts to recruit subjects for a study of Raynaud’s phenomenon at high altitude by placing a post in the club’s online newsletter. I am writing to thank you for this assistance and to let you know that the results of the study have been published in the June 2009 issue of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

For those who are interested, here is a brief synopsis of our results. Due to the design of the study, we were unable to determine whether the hypoxic environment at high altitude leads to more frequent or severe attacks of Raynaud’s phenomenon, but the study did show that motivated, prepared individuals with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon (i.e. not associated with scleroderma, lupus, or other forms of collagen vascular disease) can travel to elevations above 8,000 feet (2,440m) and successfully engage in a wide variety of activities. Forty-six percent of the survey respondents have been above 15,000 feet (4,570m), and 11 percent have traveled above 20,000 feet (6,100m). This pattern of activity runs counter to the advice that is sometimes imparted to people with Raynaud’s that they should avoid travel to high-elevation areas for fear of provoking worsening symptoms of their disorder.

Of particular note was that even though cold is a trigger for Raynaud’s phenomenon, 89 percent of the 142 people who participated in the survey reported doing some form of winter activities in the mountains, and only 22 percent reported changing their mountain activities because of their Raynaud’s disease. Of concern, however, is the fact that 15 percent of respondents did report having an episode of frostbite during a trip to high altitude at some point in their life. Caution must be applied in interpreting this frostbite data, however, as the study did not have a control group of people without Raynaud’s phenomenon and it is impossible to say based on our data whether the risk of frostbite in Raynaud’s patients is higher than or the same as that of the general population exposed to similar conditions.

Click here to find the abstract to the study.

We greatly appreciate the support of the AAC in helping us complete our study and thank all of the members who participated. People who would like additional information about the results of the study should feel free to contact me at [email protected]

Enjoy those mountain travels!

—Andrew Luks, M.D.

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