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Low blood oxygen and Everest

A study of climbers on Mount Everest, has reported the lowest ever recorded blood oxygen levels in a nonhibernating mammal.

Researchers from the University College London studied climbers on Mount Everest, the worlds highest mountain, to understand how the body adapts to low oxygen levels.

Video: Everest summit panorama

This short video gives a breathtaking view of the Everest summit.

The Everest climbers study

A group of doctors and scientists took femoral artery samples of 10 climbers who made it to the summit, to determine their blood oxygen levels. The climbers reached the summit of Everest in April and May of 2007.

Blood samples were taken at various camps and shelters. The summit of the mountain is at 8,848 meters (29,029 feet), but because of poor weather, the researchers went to a site at 8,400 meters, called the “Balcony” (27,559 feet) to take blood samples from their femoral arteries.

Before taking the samples, they spent 20 minutes breathing the ambient air, in order to eliminate the effects of the supplemental oxygen they had used.

What the researchers found …

The partial pressure of oxygen of the climbers near the summit was “lower than we expected,” said lead researcher Dr. Grocott.

The partial arterial pressure of oxygen fell with increasing altitude. At sea level in London the climbers had just under 100 millimeters of mercury, which dropped to an average of 24.6 on the “Balcony”.

Dr. Grocott said the levels were so low that in a normal patient, doctors would assume they were near death. However, on the mountain they were fine. He added, “We were able to conduct the tests, talk effectively on the radio, and walk around.”

The findings show the variation in efficiency of the body to adapt to the environment and handle stress.

The study, “Arterial Blood Gases and Oxygen Content in Climbers on Mount Everest” was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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