The altitude-related disorder seen in the intensive care unit is acute mountain sickness with its associated severe complications of high-altitude pulmonary edema and high-altitude cerebral edema. The relationship between acute mountain sickness and high-altitude pulmonary edema is not fully understood. Although most cases of high-altitude pulmonary edema are preceded by symptoms of acute mountain sickness, it can sometimes occur without evidence of these symptoms. In contrast, high-altitude cerebral edema appears to be a severe complication of acute mountain sickness.

Acute mountain sickness, high-altitude pulmonary edema, and high-altitude cerebral edema are disorders which typically can develop in healthy subjects with no pre-existing pulmonary, cardiac, or cerebral disease within hours to days at altitudes over 2500 to 3000 m above sea level. The prevalence depends mainly on the absolute altitude, the rapidity of ascent, the degree of high-altitude acclimatization, and individual susceptibility. Strenuous physical exercise and severe cold favor the occurrence of acute mountain sickness.

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