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What happens to your body on Mount Everest - CNN.

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​www.cnn.com​/2015/09/21/health/everest-medical-care/index.html
Published March 24, 2016

Story highlights

● Everest's icy temperatures and high altitude present many challenges to the human body
● Altitude-related illnesses are the most common for climbers

It's Rob Hall, played by actor Jason Clarke, as he prepares to lead an expedition up the world's highest
peak. The film, also starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin, is based on a 1996 climb, when eight people
died during a blizzard. This particular journey is well known: Its horrifying details were chronicled in Jon
Krakauer's bestselling book, "Into Thin
Air."

But is that sensational Hollywood


warning about bodies "literally dying"
on Everest true? Those who've been
there say yes.

With its peak at 29,029 feet, the


mountain presents an intense
challenge of icy temperatures and
altitude where oxygen is limited. It's not
a hospitable place for any living thing,
and people's bodies begin to shut down. In 2016, ​four people have died on Everest​ in the span of four days,
including a Sherpa, while two others have gone missing.

"Everest is a mountain of extremes," said ​Jon Kedrowski​, a geographer and climber. "At altitude, the body
deteriorates on a certain level."

Kedrowski summited ​Mount Everest​ in 2012, ​another brutal year on the mountain​, when overcrowding
combined with a dangerous weather pattern to strand climbers in the "death zone" below the summit. Ten
people died.

Still, year after year, Everest draws those willing to study and train for the mountain's rigors -- and willing to
take the risk.
Preparing for the climb
One of the first steps for anyone considering an Everest trek should be consulting with a physician to
evaluate physical health. It's also a way to discover any pre-existing conditions that might be amplified by
high altitude, Kedrowski said.

If Kedrowski is leading a peak


expedition, he screens his clients and
designs training programs to help them
prepare for the journey. When altitude is
a consideration, cardio is the emphasis,
rather than strength, Kedrowski said.

The elevation at ​Everest Base Camp​ is


17,590 feet, an altitude that decreases
oxygen by about 50%. Before
attempting a May summit, Kedrowski
recommends arriving at base camp toward the beginning of April to acclimatize for a few weeks.

Previously, it was suggested that people arrive as early March, but 10 weeks, rather than five or six, can
result in a loss of body mass, strength and endurance, Kedrowski said. This can make the climb more
dangerous, or even impossible.

Well aware of the dangerous medical conditions and injuries that can happen on Everest, Dr. Luanne Freer
founded the ​Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic​ in 2003. Physicians with mountaineering medical expertise
and volunteers staff the medical tent during each climbing season.

On average, they treat 500 people between April 1 and the end of May for everything from high-altitude
cough and acute mountain sickness to frostbite and high-altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema. They also
treat multiple sprained or broken ankles due to the rocky terrain.

What can happen on Everest


High-altitude cough​ and ​acute mountain sickness​ are common ailments among Everest climbers. Mountain
sickness results in headaches and shortness of breath, but can be managed by ascending no more than
1,000 feet a day, Kedrowski said.

No one is immune to high-altitude cough, Freer said. It may sound innocuous, but the cough results from
breathing at an elevated rate in cold air at high altitude, which can dry out the lining of the lungs and cause it
to crack. People have been known to break ribs with this cough, Freer said.
Climbers know to expect the shock of excessively cold temperatures and the possibility of frostbite as they
ascend Everest, but they might not be prepared for the other extreme: heat. On Everest, the snow and ice
act as a giant reflector for the sun's glare. The potential for sunburn is particularly great in the Khumbu Icefall
and the Western Cwm, near base camp, where daytime temperatures can reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit
during climbing season, Kedrowski said.

Climbers also risk ​high-altitude pulmonary edema​ and ​high-altitude cerebral edema​, known as HAPE and
HACE, Freer said. They're more likely higher up the mountain, in low-oxygen situations, when the body also
reacts by creating pressure and excess fluid -- in this case, on the lungs or brain.

Climbers can have a range of symptoms, from extreme fatigue and shallow breathing to dizziness and
coughing up blood. The lack of oxygen to the brain, called hypoxia, can cause people to make poor, rash
and sometimes deadly decisions in the confusing landscape.

The best and quickest treatment is for


climbers to descend to a lower
altitude, although many can't do this
on their own and must be helped or
carried.

Eating to live
Food plays a major role in how
someone's body reacts to being on
Everest. Digestion slows as climbers
reach higher altitudes until the
intestine becomes hypoxic and can't send nutrients to the muscles, Freer said.

Kedrowski recommends small meals before ascending to different camps. Consuming too much food at
once will send all of the blood toward the stomach to aid in digestion, which could redirect it from other
imperative functions of the body at altitude.

At higher altitudes, the body begins craving more sugars and it becomes harder to digest protein. Kedrowski
and his fellow climbers usually rely on plain noodles, canned vegetables and meats, rice and beans, soups
and snacks like trail mix, chocolate, cookies and crackers.

Climbers rely on melting snow for water, which can also come with its own set of problems. As Everest's
popularity has increased, the number of climbers rises each year. This has created an accumulation of trash
and human waste on the mountain. As a result, there are bacteria in some of the snow melt used by
climbers, which can cause ​diarrhea​.

Coming back to life


Freer and Kedrowski recommend following up with a physician after an Everest trek, especially if a climber
encountered a medical issue. Many experience complications after frostbite and edemas can create scar
tissue. Should a person choose to climb Everest again or tackle another similar feat, they're more
susceptible to those conditions in the future and could even die, Kedrowski said.

But he understands why people strive for the achievement. When he reached the summit amid ​nearly
impossible conditions in 2012​, Kedrowski felt accomplished to stand on top of the world -- and relieved that
he could descend and go home.

For those still dreaming of the ultimate height, Freer has some advice: "Be prepared for the ultimate stress
test."