The goal of this project is to design an easy-to-use cost-effective test that accurately predicts
whether or not someone is likely to develop acute mountain sickness (AMS) when they travel to
AMS is a common illness that occurs in certain individuals when they travel to high altitudes too
quickly. For example, the military often must send soldiers to high altitude regions with short notice; as
a result, these soldiers have very little time to adjust to the low oxygen environment. The main
symptoms of AMS include headache, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and dizziness.
Currently, there is no reliable way to predict who will get AMS, and who will remain healthy at high
altitude. The military is concerned about this issue because soldiers need to be physically and mentally
ready to perform immediately upon arrival to high altitudes. Our research team has set out to develop an
accurate and easy-to-use test kit that can be used prior to high altitude travel to identify individuals who
are at increased risk for developing AMS. This test will be of use to commanders, as it will provide
important information regarding which soldiers may get sick during high altitude operations—this will
allow the whole unit to function more efficiently and safely.
Our research team has developed a blood test that almost always correctly identifies those individuals
who will become ill with AMS. We developed our test by placing subjects for 10 hours in a chamber
that simulates high altitude by creating the same air pressure and oxygen conditions found at 16,000 feet
above sea level. When exposed to this environment, the body responds in a very similar way as at
natural high altitude (i.e. in the mountains). For this test to be useful to the military, it must be accurate,
easy to use, and cost-effective as we propose for the AMS Prediction Kit.
Our study has two primary goals. The first is to verify that our test is also able to accurately identify
those soldiers who are likely to become ill with AMS in natural high-altitude situations, such as the
mountains of Afghanistan. The second is to design and perfect an AMS test kit that is able to accurately
predict who will get AMS, in addition to being easy to use and inexpensive. The ultimate outcome of
this two and a half-year project, will be an AMS Prediction Kit, ready for a company to package and sell
to the military, and eventually the general public. With access to an AMS Prediction Kit, military
doctors and commanders would be able to keep soldiers healthy, in addition to planning and training for
more successful military operations at high altitude. If soldiers who are likely to get AMS can be
identified before they leave, we can employ interventions to reduce the likelihood they will become ill.
For instance, many medications prevent or treat the symptoms of AMS (i.e. acetazolamide and/or
dexamethasone. Alternatively, commanders could ensure that soldiers at risk for AMS ascend to high
altitude more slowly. Each of these strategies should act as a combat force multiplier, increasing
soldier’s performance and effectiveness, and improving the chance for a successful mission. For the first
time, the United States would be able to send military units to high altitude without risking the health of
its soldiers due to the negative effects of AMS.