Maximal exercise at extreme altitudes was studied during the course of the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest. Measurements were carried out at sea level [inspired O2 partial pressure (PO2) 147 Torr], 6,300 m during air breathing (inspired PO2 64 Torr), 6,300 m during 16% O2 breathing (inspired PO2 49 Torr), and 6,300 m during 14% O2 breathing (inspired PO2 43 Torr). The last PO2 is equivalent to that on the summit of Mt. Everest. All the 6,300 m studies were carried out in a warm well-equipped laboratory on well-acclimatized subjects. Maximal O2 uptake fell dramatically as the inspired PO2 was reduced to very low levels. However, two subjects were able to reach an O2 uptake of 1 l/min at the lowest inspired PO2. Arterial O2 saturations fell markedly and alveolar-arterial PO2 differences increased as the work rate was raised at high altitude, indicating diffusion limitation of O2 transfer. Maximal exercise ventilations exceeded 200 l/min at 6,300 m during air breathing but fell considerably at the lowest values of inspired PO2. Alveolar CO2 partial pressure was reduced to 7-8 Torr in one subject at the lowest inspired PO2, and the same value was obtained from alveolar gas samples taken by him at rest on the summit. The results help to explain how man can reach the highest point on earth while breathing ambient air.
- Copyright © 1983 the American Physiological Society