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In this post, we aim to give you some essential facts about the symptoms for altitude sickness, to help protect you from getting seriously ill on a trip to Tibet. A very common fear about altitude sickness is that it will ruin your trip or, at worst, kill you. Know the early symptoms of altitude illness, and be willing to acknowledge when they are present. Never ascend to sleep at a higher altitude when experiencing symptoms of altitude illness, no matter how minor they seem. If you are planning a trip to Tibet, we can put you in touch with a reliable Tibetan-owned agent who will plan a non-touristy trip that gives you a real feel for Tibet. At a mild level, the symptoms are often described as similar to an alcohol hangover or having the flu. While mild AMS is quite common and is generally not debilitating, it is important to take it seriously. The great majority of people who get HACE ignored the rule against ascending with symptoms of AMS.
As altitude sickness progresses, the brain can swell and stop working well, due to HACE, High Altitude Cerebral Edema.
It’s important to note that a characteristic sign of HACE is a decreased ability to think and loss of physical coordination.
Loss of coordination, perhaps an unsteady walk, developing into a staggering walk as if the person is drunk. A Typical Scenario of HAPE Developing in a Trekker “The typical scenario would be a trekker who has no headache or nausea, but finds he has a harder time walking uphill, that he is out of breath on slight exertion compared with the initial days of the trek.
HAPE can be confused with other respiratory conditions, like bronchitis, a high altitude cough, pneumonia, or asthma. Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, to give you general information and understanding of altitude sickness, not to provide specific medical advice. We are real Tibetan-American couple that has lived in and traveled to Tibet multiple times. We want to give you an idea of how bad the symptoms are, and how they might impact your trip.
A mild AMS headache can be treated with pain medications or Diamox, an altitude sickness medicine that we discuss more in another post in this series called How to Avoid Altitude Sickness.
HACE, is rare, but can progress rapidly, and can be fatal in a matter of a few hours to one or two days. It is is important to recognize the symptoms and signs of HACE early and to get the subject to lower altitude immediately. You do not want to leave it until the person’s illness progresses to the point to which she or he cannot walk at all. Like HACE, it is a severe form of altitude sickness, but unlike HACE, it is not considered to be a severe form of AMS.
On first realizing that the traveler may have early signs of HAPE, immediate descent is critical. See this post by the International Society for Mountain Medicine (ISMM) for specific recommendations, particularly if you are an asthmatic. By reading this post you understand that there is no professional relationship between you and the authors.
People with HAPE often also have AMS, but it is possible to have HAPE without the signs of AMS. It is far better to descend while the traveler is still mobile rather than waiting for severe symptoms that would force the victim to be carried.
It is critical that you consult with your physician before you decide that it is safe for you to travel to Tibet, and before you take any of the medicines or steps mentioned in this series of posts.
You will also learn some very simple rules that every Tibet traveler should know to stay healthy at high altitude.
It is recommended to descend to the last point at which the traveler woke up feeling well, without AMS.
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