AIMS: A unique Andean population lives in the highest city of the world (La Rinconada, 5100 m, Peru) and frequently develops a maladaptive syndrome, termed chronic mountain sickness (CMS). Both extreme altitude and CMS are a challenge for the cardiovascular system. This study aims to evaluate cardiac remodelling and pulmonary circulation at rest and during exercise in healthy and CMS highlanders.
METHODS AND RESULTS: Highlanders living permanently at 3800 m (n = 23) and 5100 m (n = 55) with (n = 38) or without CMS (n = 17) were compared with 18 healthy lowlanders. Rest and exercise echocardiography were performed to describe cardiac remodelling, pulmonary artery pressure (PAP), and pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR). Total blood volume (BV) and haemoglobin mass were determined in all people. With the increase in the altitude of residency, the right heart dilated with an impairment in right ventricle systolic function, while the left heart exhibited a progressive concentric remodelling with Grade I diastolic dysfunction but without systolic dysfunction. Those modifications were greater in moderate-severe CMS patients. The mean PAP was higher both at rest and during exercise in healthy highlanders at 5100 m. The moderate-severe CMS subjects had a higher PVR at rest and a larger increase in PAP during exercise. The right heart remodelling was correlated with PAP, total BV, and SpO2.
CONCLUSION: Healthy dwellers at 5100 m exhibit both right heart dilatation and left ventricle concentric remodelling with diastolic dysfunction. Those modifications are even more pronounced in moderate-severe CMS subjects and could represent the limit of the heart's adaptability before progression to heart failure.