Myocardial adaptability in young and older-aged sea-level habitants sojourning at Mt Kilimanjaro: are cardiac compensatory limits reached in older trekkers?

Glenn M. Stewart, Courtney M. Wheatley-Guy, Norman R. Morris, Kirsten E. Coffman, Jan Stepanek, Alex R. Carlson, Amine Issa, Michael A. Schmidt, Bruce D. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Introduction: High-altitude ascent induces left (LV) and right (RV) ventricular adaptations secondary to hypoxia-related hemodynamic and myocardial alterations. Since cardiopulmonary decrements observed with aging (e.g., decreased LV compliance and increased pulmonary vascular resistance) may limit cardiac plasticity, this study examined myocardial adaptability throughout an 11 day sojourn to 5893 m in young and older-aged trekkers. Methods and results: Echocardiography was performed on 14 young (8 men; 32 ± 5 years) and 13 older-aged (8 men; 59 ± 5 years) subjects on non-trekking days (Day 0: 880 m; Day 3: 3100 m; Day 8: 4800 m; Day 12/post-climb: 880 m). RV systolic pressure (mmHg) was systematically higher in older-aged subjects (p < 0.01) with similar progressive increases observed during ascent for young and older subjects, respectively (Day 0: 18 ± 1 vs 20 ± 2; Day 3: 25 ± 2 vs 29 ± 3; Day 8: 30 ± 2 vs 35 ± 2). Estimates of LV filling pressure (E/E′) were systematically higher in older subjects (p < 0.01) with similar progressive decreases observed during ascent for young and older-aged subjects, respectively (Day 0: 5.6 ± 0.3 vs 6.7 ± 0.5; Day 3: 5.1 ± 0.2 vs 6.1 ± 0.3; Day 8: 4.7 ± 0.3 vs 5.4 ± 0.3). Overall, RV end-diastolic and end-systolic area increased at altitude (p < 0.01), while LV end-diastolic and end-systolic volume decreased (p < 0.01). However, all RV and LV morphological measures were similar on Day 3 and Day 8 (p > 0.05), and returned to baseline post-climb (p > 0.05). Excluding mild LV dilatation in some older-aged trekkers on Day 8/Day 12 (p < 0.01), altitude-induced morphological and functional adaptations were similar for all trekkers (p > 0.05). Conclusion: Altitude-induced myocardial adaptations are chamber specific, secondary to RV and LV hemodynamic alterations. Despite progressive hemodynamic alterations during ascent, morphological and functional cardiac perturbations plateaued, suggesting rapid myocardial adaptation which was mostly comparable in young and older-aged individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)799-809
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • Aging
  • Cardiac function
  • Echocardiography
  • Expedition
  • High altitude
  • Trekking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physiology (medical)


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