Can you make the diagnosis?

Steve is excited to arrive in Winter Park, Colorado for his ski trip.  He is meeting his old college friends for the weekend.

Steve and his friends meet up for lunch, then take a walk through the town.  However soon Steve  begins to feel tired, and starts to think he may be getting the flu.  He has a headache, and starts to feel nauseated.  He begins to feel dizzy, and decides he has to go back to his hotel room and go to bed.

What is causing Steve’s illness?

  1.  Altitude sickness
  2. The flu
  3. Food poisoning
  4. A migraine


If you guessed 1.  Altitude sickness, you are correct!  Altitude sickness is caused by low oxygen at high elevations.  Symptoms include headaches, vomiting, fatigue, and dizziness.  Altitude sickness can progress to pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and to high altitude cerebral edema (brain swelling), and if untreated can lead to death.

Altitude sickness can occur at altitudes above 8000 feet.  Risk factors include a prior episode of altitude illness, and rapid ascent to elevation.  Alcohol and sleeping pills can increase the risk for altitude sickness.

Slow ascent to elevations can prevent altitude illness.  There is a medication called Diamox which can help prevent altitude sickness as well if it is started early.

Altitude sickness can mimic the flu, but the clue on this case is that Steve is at Winter Park, Colorado, which has an altitude of over 9000 feet.  Food poisoning usually causes vomiting and diarrhea.  A migraine causes severe headache and is often associated with visual changes.



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