The Effects of Altitude on Human Physiology

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The Effects of Altitude on Human Physiology Changes in altitude can have a dramatic effect on the human body and how we maintain our homeostasis, or balance to ensure our optimal operating environment for our complex chemical systems. Any deviation from homeostasis is a change away from this optimal operating environment. The body tries to correct this imbalance, such as the effect of increasing attitude and the lack of adequate oxygen. With an increase in elevation, a typical occurrence when climbing at high altitudes, the body is forced to respond with various means to the changes in its external environment. If the responses from our body to the lack of oxygen are inadequate, the results to our body can be serious, and sometimes fatal. While understanding the effect of altitude on the body, we must first know what is happening to the external environment and why. We can then look at our internal environment of our body to find out why it tries to find homeostasis. High Altitude Altitude is a usually defined in terms of scale. High altitude is 8,000-12,000 feet. Very high altitude is 12,000-18,000 feet and extremely high is 18,000 plus feet (Hubble, 1995). A common mistake people make is the thinking that there is less oxygen at the higher elevations. Such is not true. Oxygen levels remain relatively unchanged until elevation levels reach 50,000 feet. The reason for the body’s inability to get oxygen at higher elevations is due to atmospheric pressure. At higher levels, the atmospheric pressure is increasing. Therefore, the amount of oxygen per breath is less. At sea level, the air pressure is 760 mmHg. At 12,000 feet, the air pressure is at 483 mmHg. The difference between sea level and 12,000 feet yields us 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath. Human Respiratory System The respiratory system is responsible for taking in oxygen into our
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