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THE EFFECTS OF ALTITUDE ON HUMAN PHYSIOLOGY Changes in altitude have a profound effect on the human body The body attempts to maintain a state of homeostasis or balance to ensure the optimal operating environment for its complex chemical systems Any change from this homeostasis is a change away from the optimal operating environment The body attempts to correct this imbalance One such imbalance is the effect of increasing altitude on the bodys ability to provide adequate oxygen to be utilized in cellular respiration With an increase in elevation a typical occurrence when climbing mountains the body is forced to respond in various ways to the changes in external environment Foremost of these changes is the diminished ability to obtain oxygen from the atmosphere If the adaptive responses to this stressor are inadequate the performance of body systems may decline dramatically If prolonged the results can be serious or even fatal In looking at the effect of altitude on body functioning we first must understand what occurs in the external environment at higher elevations and then observe the important changes that occur in the internal environment of the body in response In discussing altitude change and its effect on the body mountaineers generally define altitude according to the scale of high 8000 - 12000 feet very high 12000 - 18000 feet and extremely high 18000 feet Hubble 1995 A common misperception of the change in external environment with increased altitude is that there is decreased oxygen This is not correct as the concentration of oxygen at sea level is about 21 and stays relatively unchanged until over 50000 feet Johnson 1988 What is really happening is that the atmospheric pressure is decreasing and subsequently the amount of oxygen available in a single breath of air is significantly less At sea level the barometric pressure averages 760 mmHg while at 12000 feet it is only 483 mmHg This decrease in total atmospheric pressure means
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