Echocardiographic and tissue Doppler imaging of cardiac adaptation to high altitude in native highlanders versus acclimatized lowlanders

Sandrine Huez, Vitalie Faoro, Herve Guénard, Jean-Benoit Martinot, Robert Naeije
American Journal of Cardiology 2009 June 1, 103 (11): 1605-9
High-altitude exposure is a cause of pulmonary hypertension and decreased exercise capacity, but associated changes in cardiac function remain incompletely understood. The aim of this study was to investigate right ventricular (RV) and left ventricular function in acclimatized Caucasian lowlanders compared with native Bolivian highlanders at high altitudes. Standard echocardiography and tissue Doppler imaging studies were performed in 15 healthy lowlanders at sea level; <24 hours after arrival in La Paz, Bolivia, at 3,750 m; and after 10 days of acclimatization and ascent to Huayna Potosi, at 4,850 m, and the results were compared with those obtained in 15 age- and body size-matched inhabitants of Oruro, Bolivia, at 4,000 m. Acute exposure to high altitude in lowlanders caused an increase in mean pulmonary arterial pressure, to 20 to 25 mm Hg, and altered RV and left ventricular diastolic function, with prolonged isovolumic relaxation time, an increased RV Tei index, and maintained RV systolic function as estimated by tricuspid annular plane excursion and the tricuspid annular S wave. This profile was essentially unchanged after acclimatization and ascent to 4,850 m, except for higher pulmonary arterial pressure. The native highlanders presented with relatively lower pulmonary arterial pressures but more pronounced alterations in diastolic function, decreased tricuspid annular plane excursion and tricuspid annular S waves, and increased RV Tei indexes. In conclusion, cardiac adaptation to high altitude was qualitatively similar in acclimatized Caucasian lowlanders and in Bolivian native highlanders. However, lifelong exposure to high altitude may be associated with different cardiac adaptation to milder hypoxic pulmonary hypertension.

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