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Epidemiology and pathophysiology of vascular thrombosis in acclimatized lowlanders at high altitude

A prospective longitudinal study

Lancet Reg Health Southeast Asia .2022 Jun 9


Background: Previous literature suggests that thrombosis is more common in lowlanders sojourning at high altitude (HA) compared to near-sea-level. Though the pathophysiology is partly understood, little is known of its epidemiology. To elucidate this, an observational prospective longitudinal study was conducted in healthy soldiers sojourning for months at HA.

Methods: A total of 960 healthy male subjects were screened in the plains, of which 750 ascended, to altitudes above 15,000ft (4,472m). Clinical examination, haemogram, coagulogram, markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction, were studied at three time points during ascent and descent. The diagnosis of thrombosis was confirmed radiologically in all cases where a thrombotic event was suspected clinically. Subjects developing thrombosis at HA were labelled as Index Cases (ICs) and compared to a nested cohort of the healthy subjects (comparison group,(CG)) matched for altitude of stay.

Findings: Twelve and three subjects, developed venous (incidence: 5,926/105 person-years) and arterial (incidence: 1,482/105 person-years) thrombosis at HA, respectively. The ICs had enhanced coagulation (FVIIa: p<0.001; FXa: p<0.001) and decreased levels of natural anticoagulants (thrombomodulin, p=0.016; tissue factor pathway inhibitor [TFPI]: p<0.001) and a trend to dampened fibrinolysis (tissue plasminogen activator tPA; p=0.078) compared to CG. ICs also exhibited statistically significant increase in the levels of endothelial dysfunction and inflammation markers (vascular cell adhesion molecule-1[VCAM-1], intercellular adhesion molecule-1 [ICAM-1], vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 3 [VEGFR-3], P-Selectin, CD40 ligand, soluble C-reactive protein and myeloperoxidase: p<0.001).

Interpretation: The incidence of thrombosis in healthy subjects at HA was higher than that reported in literature at near sea-level. This was associated with inflammation, endothelial dysfunction, a prothrombotic state and dampened fibrinolysis.

Funding: Research grants from the Armed Forces Medical Research Committee, Office of the Director General of Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) & Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Ministry of Defence, India.

Keywords: Endothelial dysfunction; Fibrinolysis; High altitude; Inflammation; Thrombosis.

© 2022 The Authors.


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