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Study of Everest Climbers Questions Oxygen Use
Date:1/7/2009

Whether low levels would work for ER patients with hypoxia remains unclear

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Going to the world's most elevated natural laboratory, Mount Everest, British researchers have found that the established medical rules about the amount of oxygen needed by a body under stress might be wrong.

"Some people can tolerate extremely low levels of oxygen, much lower than we expected," said Dr. Michael P.W. Grocott, from University College London and lead author of a report in the Jan. 8 New England Journal of Medicine.

His team determined their findings on hypoxia, which is low levels of oxygen, from measurements made on 10 climbers as they went up and down Everest, whose peak of more than 29,000 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth.

The report is the first to come from a large-scale project "specifically designed to understand the differences between people and how they react to hypoxia," Grocott said. Those differences are difficult to measure in ordinary hospital laboratories, but the Everest project provided a way for "measurement of unusual people in a strange place," he added.

The researchers, from the Center for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine at the University College London's Institute of Human Health and Performance, wanted to make blood measurements at the very peak of Everest, but the weather did not allow that. Instead, samples were taken at the highest level possible, at an altitude of about 27,559 feet. The blood oxygen readings at that level "are, to our knowledge, among the lowest ever documented in humans," the researchers wrote.

"I don't expect patients to survive in oxygen levels that we saw in these subjects," Grocott said. Yet all of them "were functioning perfectly ably," he added.

The Everest finding could lead to a change in the treatment of the hypoxia often seen in people in emergency rooms, like th
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