Abnormal blood flow in the sublingual microcirculation at high altitude

DS Martin, C Ince, P Goedhart, DZ Levett, MP Grocott, , Alan Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report the first direct observations of deranged microcirculatory blood flow at high altitude, using sidestream dark-field imaging. Images of the sublingual microcirculation were obtained from a group of 12 volunteers during a climbing expedition to Cho Oyu (8,201 m) in the Himalayas. Microcirculatory flow index (MFI) was calculated from the moving images of microcirculatory red blood cell flow, and comparison was made between the baseline and high altitude measurements. Peripheral oxygen saturation (SpO2) and Lake Louise scores (LLS) were recorded along with MFI. Our data demonstrate that there was a significant reduction in MFI from baseline to 4,900 m in small (less than 25 μm) and medium (26–50 μm) sized blood vessels (P = 0.025 and P = 0.046, respectively). There was no significant correlation between MFI and SpO2 or MFI and LLS. Disruption of blood flow within microcirculatory may explain persistent abnormal oxygen flux to tissues following the normalisation of systemic oxygen delivery that accompanies acclimatisation to high altitude.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)473 - 478
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2009


  • Hypoxia
  • Microcirculation
  • Altitude
  • Oxygen


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