Did you know that in a group of 5 trekkers, at least 1 of them shows mild symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)? This is something we’ve noticed a lot over the past decade after leading hundreds of treks in the Himalayas. What we’ve also seen is that in most cases, trekkers don’t recognize their symptoms as AMS and rather attribute it to something else completely.
AMS could prove dangerous if not caught in the early stages!
Yes, that’s right. If not diagnosed and treated at first, it could quickly climb on to a person mid way through his trek and turn out to be more serious. So in this article, I’m going to talk about 5 of the most common symptoms that you may not recognize as AMS and by the end of the article, you’ll know what signs to look out for, the next time you’re up in the hills.
➤ A Brief Overview of AMS –
To begin with, let me try and tell you what AMS is in brief – Acute Mountain Sickness is your body’s way of telling you that it’s not adjusting well to the high altitudes. Now WebMD and Google will tell you to look out for a headache as it’s the most common symptom of AMS, but it’s important to note that in quite a few cases, people with AMS don’t experience any sort of headache at all. Therefore it becomes critical to recognize the symptoms I’m writing about.
Here’s AMS discussed more in detail.
Always remember the Golden Rule for traveling in the mountains which says about suspecting and treating AMS as your first priority and then moving onto anything else.
➤ Signs and Symptoms Hinting at AMS
Here’s the symptoms at a glance:
The first and most often ignored sign of AMS that I’ve seen among trekkers is having a bad stomach. A lot of trekkers develop a case of diarrhea wherein they blame their loose motions on the food and water around them. But you shouldn’t do that. Gastrointestinal symptoms are often seen in the milder stages of AMS so it’s essential that you take them as a sign of AMS, treat them, and then continue on with your trek.
The second sign for AMS that trekkers neglect is nausea. They suffer from feeling like they’re about to vomit any second but wait for actually vomiting before terming it AMS and then treating it. Never make the mistake of delaying. Remember the golden rule, and treat your nausea as a sign of AMS. Trekkers also complain about a loss of appetite during the period and attribute it to dehydration, which you should avoid doing.
During my many expeditions, I’ve often seen trekkers complain about not getting enough sleep, and them tossing and turning in their sleeping bags all night. Now it’s easy for first-timers to blame this sudden outburst of insomnia on a change of surroundings and not being used to tents or sleeping bags. But shivering in your tent and being unable to sleep isn’t normal, especially when your body feels tired and exhausted after having trekked all day. So if you’re unable to sleep, please treat it as a sign of AMS first and foremost.
That brings me to my penultimate symptom – Extreme Fatigue. Now I’ve noticed this on many of my treks where a trekker who’s extremely fit and well-paced and ahead of the pack on Day 1 of the trek, feels exhausted and fatigued the next day and is barely able to keep up, and by the end of Day 3, he’s seen struggling for breath and lagging behind while climbing. This isn’t normal, extremely for people who are fit, as they’re expected to maintain a stable pace each day of the trek. If you ever encounter such a situation yourself, please treat the fatigue as AMS first.
The fifth and final sign that goes unrecognized as a symptom of AMS is this inexplicable case of uneasiness or restlessness. I’ve observed quite a few times when a trekker isn’t able to pinpoint exactly what’s going on but they can tell you that something for sure is wrong with their body, and sometimes their mind too. You must be aware of this and treat it as a signal your body is sending you regarding AMS.
That brings us to the end. By now I hope you’ve built upon your understanding of AMS and will be better equipped to handle it on your next trek. You must keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list of symptoms and that high altitude affects each person differently. Many people might show a range of symptoms with different intensities. Therefore it becomes critical to stay alert and notify your trek leader or other members in your group and always treat these symptoms as AMS first. Never forget the golden rule.
If this article got you thinking about AMS, we have a lot of other resources on our platforms.
To understand how to treat and prevent AMS, you can find the video on our YouTube channel helpful where we talk about AMS in detail, especially its treatment.
Besides, you can always write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any queries you might have after reading this piece. Be sure to share this with your trek mates.
Drop in a comment with your thoughts or questions, if any, and we will get back to you.