Dossier: Hiking

When your heart races at altitude

I’m 35 and feel generally fit. But when I go hiking, my heart starts to race at around 2,500 metres above sea level and I find every step hard. Is this normal?

Medgate: Acute altitude sickness can set in at around 2,000 metres above sea level. The reason for this is that the body can’t absorb oxygen efficiently at higher altitudes. In addition to palpitations, other typical symptoms include headaches, loss of appetite, feeling generally unwell, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, problems sleeping, impaired consciousness, an increase in body temperature, and swollen hands, feet and eyelids.

Anyone can suffer from acute altitude sickness, although young people are more likely to be affected as it occurs less often in people over the age of 50. Between 20% and 40% of mountaineers suffer from altitude sickness. Many people aren’t even aware of it, because the symptoms tend to occur six to 12 hours after exposure and stop again automatically. Symptoms are worse at altitudes of over 3,000 m above sea level.

Slow ascent

How best to avoid altitude sickness: Cover a difference in altitude of only 300-500 metres per day. This gives your body time to adapt to the change in conditions. With mild symptoms, it can help to spend a rest day at the same altitude to recover. If the symptoms don’t improve the next day, you should go down. If the symptoms are very strong, it’s best to descend immediately with someone to help.

Children at altitude

Families don’t have to take any extra precautions when planning an excursion at altitude: Children react almost identically to adults. However, you shouldn’t go higher than 3,000 to 4,000 m above sea level with preschoolers. We recommend sleeping at below 2,500 m above sea level.