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Why people hear voices when climbing Mount Everest

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The highest mountains can ride that climb, they are temporarily not crazy.

Now, researchers say that these psychotic episodes forms a person’s own medical condition, and can be distinguished from altitude sickness.

“The mountains are annoying and beautiful, but we did not expect that they can drive us to madness,” said study co-author Dr. Hermann Brugger, head of the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, told live Science. The researchers detailed their findingsonline Dec. 5 in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Further research into this disorder may shed light on other episodes of temporary psychosis, researchers say.

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Mountain voices

At extreme altitudes, mountain climbers are often about experiencing a psychosis — that is, it is a mental disorder where a person is out of touch with reality. Symptoms of psychotic episodesinclude hallucinations and delusions.

For example, if a mountain climber and anesthesiologist Dr. Jeremy Windsor was the climbing of Mount Everestin 2008, he underwent a strange experience common in extreme mountain climbing. Only in the Himalayas at a height of more than 5.1 miles (8.2 km), Windsor hallucinated a man named Jimmy, who is with him all day long, spoke words of encouragement to him, and then disappeared without a trace.

Until now, doctors have generally thought that such psychotic episodes were symptoms of altitude sickness, in addition to severe headaches, dizziness and reduced balance. Altitude sickness results from the lack of oxygen experienced at high altitudes, and can lead to a potentially lethal build-up of fluid in the lungs or the brain.

But in the new analysis, Windsor and his colleagues found that “isolated high altitude psychosis” can the medical condition, the one different from altitude sickness.

To arrive at that conclusion, the researchersanalyzed data of 83 psychotic episodes at high altitudes gathered from the German literature of the mountain. They found a list of psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices, which are linked to the height, but very clearly, it is not always connected to one of the physical symptoms of altitude sickness, or in the past mental illness.

“The people that suffer from these episodes at high altitude are otherwise completely healthy — they are not prone to psychosis,” Brugger said.

Isolated at a great height, a psychosis was most likely to occur at a height of over 22,965 feet (7,000 meters) above sea level, the researchers found. They are not sure what you can lead — perhaps caused similar to that behind altitude sickness, such as oxygen deficiency or early stages of the swelling in certain areas of the brain.

It is also possible the cause is not due to the height.

“It is also known that a complete loss of social contacts and loneliness for a long time can cause hallucinations,” Brugger said.

Direct recovery

The symptoms of this syndrome apparently completely disappeared as soon as the mountaineers left the danger zone, the researchers wrote in the study. “She is fully restored,” Brugger said.

Still, this syndrome was clearly associated with a significant risk of accidents, “and even a small mistake can be fatal at extreme altitudes,” Brugger said. “It is important that climbers are aware of this risk, that they know that these hallucinations are not real, that these effects are reversible, and find some coping measures during their climbs.”

Scientists may seek to simulate these cases of temporary psychosis, by placing the volunteers in the chambers that simulate extreme heights with low oxygen and low air pressure.

“This may help to shed light on a temporary psychosis in general,” Brugger said.

In March, the researchers plan to work together with Nepalese doctors in the Mount Everest base camp to find out how often insulated on a large extent, a psychosis may occur.

“They will make use of questionnaires for data collection of climbers that come down from the Everest,” Brugger said.

Originally published on Live Science.

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