Altitude and myasthenia gravis

Today I’m stepping into the unknown. Not only am I flying from Chile – the most developed of the countries I’ve visited in South America so far (in my opinion) – to Bolivia – a country I know very little about and that has been described to me as the least European of all the countries in the continent. Now that’s an exciting thing in itself and the kind of description that sells a place to me rather than puts me off. But also the airport in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, is 4,000m above sea level. We have eight hours here until our flight to the slightly lower Uyuni (3,600m).

General impact of altitude

It is widely acknowledged that the impacts of altitude start when a person passes around 3,000m – although some people start to feel it around 2,500m. This is because the air is thinner – it contains less oxygen. The higher you go the less oxygen it contains.

There is no predicting how and when it will impact a person but some common side effects are:

  • headaches
  • nauseous and/or upset stomach
  • vomiting
  • shortness of breath
  • trouble sleeping
  • tiredness

From what I’ve read it can take about three days or longer to acclimatise to the thinner oxygen.

Implications for myasthenia gravis

When I asked my consultant before taking the trip he told me there was no specific implications but I was to take care just as anyone else would.

Obviously the difficulty sleeping could trigger MG symptoms as it has done in the past for me, so it will be interesting to see how my eyes behave over the next few days. As you can see from the featured photo, I’m arriving strong with no physical eye symptoms.

However, from what I’ve read and I must remind you that I’m as far from a medical expert as humans come, that it might be particularly problematic if you’ve had lung problems or if you have an additional lung problem on top of your MG.

Experimenting by giving it a go

After a last minute panic at the airport and then on the flight, we are here in La Paz doing everything, including writing this blog, incredibly slowly. The only way to know how we’ll respond to this altitude thing is to be in it so armed with the names of drugs we can take to alleviate symptoms, we’re giving it a go.

We’re going to take it very easy – relaxing for the first few days until we acclimatise and then see what we’re fit for. We’ve got a nice hotel so that we can just relax and enjoy being in the desert; another new experience for me.

If things don’t go well, our plan is to skip the Salar de Uyuni and fly to Lima, the sea level capital of Peru, where we can take a meandering bus to Cuzco. This means a more gradual acclimatisation to the slightly lower Peruvian city (3,300m), from where we plan to spend a week exploring Incan history including Machu Picchu.

I will give an update on how we’ve found it in due course, but for now we’re off to enjoy the relaxation booths with Netflix that an absolute hero created in the La Paz airport.

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