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In the developed countries, Italy included, obesity is increasing. In the same countries it is easier and easier to reach high altitude, rapidly by mechanical devices, for climbing and skiing. A rapid ascent and a 24-hour staying at altitudes more than 2500 m, can caus acute mountin sickness (AMS). A recent study, published on “Annals of Internal medicine” (Ann Intern Med 2003; 139: 253-257) focuses possible associations of obesity with AMS. 9 obese men (body mass index more than 30) and 10 nonobese men (body mass index less than 25) were studied for 24 hours at a simulated altitude of 3658 m.

The obese men more often developed AMS symptoms (7 obese versus 4 nonobese). The more frequent symptoms were headache (89%) and difficulty in sleeping (75%). Moreover the obese men had lower nocturnal oxygen saturation values than the nonobese men. These findings suggest thet impaired breathing can be a pathophysiologic mechanism for the increased levels of AMS in obese individuals.

Even if these results must be interpreted with caution bacause only a small number of people is involved and the altitude is simulated, without physical activity, an increased risk to develop AMS for obese people must be considered.