Mountain Madness: Is this Environment-Based Medical Condition Real?

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Is it True Mountain Climbing Can Cause Psychosis?

As if scaling mountains at extreme altitudes while dangling by a rope isn’t frightening enough, a new study now suggests that mountain climbing can cause psychosis, resulting in hallucinations at dangerously high heights.

While previous research has shown that hallucinations during mountain climbing is a well-known phenomenon in high-altitude situations, these experiences have long been thought to be a type of altitude sickness. Now, researchers have given this common condition a definition and a name – isolated high-altitude psychosis.

Study Examines if Mountain Climbing Can Cause Psychosis

At extreme altitudes, mountaineers often mention experiencing high-altitude psychosis, a mental disorder where a person becomes out of touch with reality and displays symptoms of psychotic episodes include hallucinations and delusions.

Until now, experts have generally thought such psychotic episodes were symptoms of altitude sickness, which includes symptoms of severe headaches, dizziness and impaired balance. Altitude sickness results from the lack of oxygen experienced at high altitudes, and can trigger a potentially lethal buildup of fluid in the lungs or brain.

But the recent analysis, led by Dr. Katharina Hüfner, composed of researchers from Eurac Research and the Medical University of Innsbruck, found that “isolated high-altitude psychosis” may be its own medical condition, one distinct from altitude sickness. “In our study, we found that there was a group of symptoms which are purely psychotic,” co-author Hermann Brugger, head of the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine in Italy said in a press release.

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