HAPE – An Extreme Form of Altitude Sickness Often Causing Death in Otherwise Healthy Individuals

Lauren Hash | ClimbingClimbing
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema – Credit: Exciting Nepal

What is HAPE?

Whether an avid hiker or moving to a location with higher elevation be aware of the signs and symptoms of HAPE – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. This translates to the development of swelling and fluid in the lungs due to an extreme change in altitude. It typically occurs around 8200 ft. in elevation but can also occur in elevations as low as 4900 ft. The risk factors include being exposed to the cold, a quick ascent rate, intense physical exertion, being male (sex), a previous diagnosis of HAPE, genetic factors, and underlying medical conditions. However, it can occur in otherwise healthy individuals. Knowing the signs and symptoms can be crucial for saving you or your friends’ lives.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms include at least two of the following; chest tightness, shortness of breath even at rest, cough, and decreased exercise performance. The signs include at least two of the following; quick heart rate, quick breathing, crackles/wheezing, and a blue skin color. These signs and symptoms are similar to other conditions and are often misdiagnosed and mistreated, often as pneumonia. Reporting a change in elevation to the doctor if you develop the signs and symptoms from hiking or moving to a more elevated location. Knowing these could save your life. 

X-Ray with HAPE – Credit: High Altitude Medicine 


The steps you can take to avoid developing HAPE includes traveling up the mountain at a slower rate once 9800 ft. in elevation has been reached. The first step to remain healthy during an intense climb is to ascend no more than 1600 ft. than your sleeping elevation. The second step is to take a rest day with no additional ascent every 3-4 days. These prevention steps are crucial to maintaining a healthy body during some of the most beautiful climbs of your life. Happy hiking!

The 7 Summits – Credit: Favre Leuba

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