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Living at high altitude during pregnancy - feeling awful - please help

(3 Posts)
AutumnEnglishRose Thu 16-Jul-15 01:15:25

Dear Mumsnetters,

This is my first ever post so please bear with me... and sorry if it gets long.

I am a healthy 30 year old woman in my 9th week of pregnancy with my first child. I have no history of health problems, no ongoing medical condition, never had surgery, no allergies, I am a healthy weight and non-smoker, who regularly exercises and eats well. On this basis I was hoping to have a healthy pregnancy.

All my blood tests have come back as normal and a scan last week showed the baby is 2cm long, with a good heartbeat, and the ob gyn said everything is as it should be.

However, my problem is that I am living at high altitude - 2,800m above sea level - in Quito, Ecuador. I am originally from the UK and spent the first 28 years of my life at sea level. I have lived here for two years now and never had real problems with the altitude until I got pregnant. I would travel away a lot for work, both down to sea level within Ecuador and long-haul trips abroad, and I would only get a mild headache and sometimes light heart palpitations on the first day back in Quito.

Now, however, I feel absolutely terrible all the time that I am at altitude. I had to travel outside the city (lower altitude) at the weekend, and felt much better all weekend with lots of energy and I was able to eat. However as soon as I got back Sunday night a terrible headache started, I could not stop vomiting and also had uncontrollable diarrhoea. My heart was beating like crazy and rushing in my ears. Everything I ate came back up. I couldn't sleep due to the heart pounding and headache, and nausea. My vision was blurry and I felt dizzy. I also had terrible wind and felt my stomach bloat out like a balloon, which was terribly painful especially as I had not been able to keep any food down.

It is now Wednesday evening and the headache, palpitations and constant bloated, gassy feeling. I have eaten and kept food down, but still feel constantly nauseous and can only eat very small, plain portions such as a piece of bread or plain rice. Which worries me that I am not getting enough nutrients and varied diet for the baby.

I have had two doctors appointments here since Monday, but do not feel like I was taken seriously at all regarding the altitude sickness. I told them my vision was blurry and they could see that I could hardly walk, and they did not seem concerned at all. I have read online that this is a serious cause for concern, and now two days later I am frightened because it has not fully gone away. Both doctors told me I probably had a stomach infection from something I ate, which was causing the diarrhoea. I just KNEW it was the altitude and not that. Sure enough they both sent off for blood and stool sample tests, which came back normal. But then they basically said "you don't have an infection, your baby is fine, you are fine" and sent me away with instructions to drink lots of fluids.

I know that local doctors in Quito really don't seem to believe in the severity of altitude sickness. People who were born and grew up here do not even feel the effects of altitude, and I am probably the first pregnant European woman who did not grow up in high altitude that either of these doctors have ever treated. They have been very good with general pregnancy care, but whenever I try to tell them how bad I feel from the altitude, they just laugh it off and tell me that I will have become acclimatised by now, after living here for 2 years. They don't seem to believe me that I WAS acclimatised, but something seems to have gone wrong now that I am pregnant, meaning I have become more sensitive to the altitude or it is affecting me more for some weird reason.

Has anyone ever heard of this, or known anyone who had this?? I myself do not understand how I could live quite happily at high altitude, including regular gym sessions and parties, then get pregnant and feel so bad I feel like I am 100 years old and dying of a horrible disease.

Also I just don't know what to do to get the doctors to take me seriously. I have read online that altitude sickness can turn into a blood clot on the brain and that blurry vision is something to worry about. I am just not getting answers here locally, and I want to know whether I and my baby really are in danger? And even if not, what can I do to stop feeling so awful all the time? I cannot work, can barely eat, feel weak and exhausted all the time, my heart is always pounding like crazy even at rest, and exercise is an impossibility - despite both doctors telling me I should still exercise regularly! They just didn't believe me that walking up two flights of stairs to my apartment makes me feel like I'm having a stroke.

It is so depressing to have gone from such an active and healthy life, to feeling like this. Part of me wants to just sit and cry that pregnancy is nothing like what I had imagined - I knew there was likely to be sickness and discomfort from the start, but I never imagined it could be so incapacitating. All the pregnancy books and websites go on about how you have to eat such a varied diet, and get regular exercise, and I feel like a loser and failure because the most I can do is lie on the sofa feeling awful, nibbling on a piece of dry toast. Also my mother had a great pregnancy with me, and she was 7 years older than I am now. I know if I were at a lower altitude or preferably back home in the UK I would feel much better too - it is very hard not to get completely miserable about that. However my job is here, and my partner's work is here, so it would be impossible for us to move any time soon. I have gone from enjoying life in this city, to feeling really trapped.

I would be so very grateful for any advice you can give me, especially if anyone has experienced anything like this or can give a professional medical opinion - I am just not getting taken seriously by my local doctors.

Also I am wondering whether it would be better to try and stay at this level of altitude all the time, in the hope that I will eventually acclimatise, or would it be better to try and spend some time at a lower level at the weekends? My partner has even talked about moving house to one of the valleys outside Quito, at a 500m lower altitude, but it would then mean I would have to travel up into Quito every day to go to work - which I don't know whether that would be worse. If anyone knows anything technical about this and the effects of altitude on the body, I would be so grateful.

Thanks so much in advance.

Littleoakhorn Thu 16-Jul-15 07:31:43

I really have no idea. Could you research to see if there are any UK specialists that you could have a phone consultation with? I live abroad and I sometimes find that my concerns get lost in translation.

Skiptonlass Thu 16-Jul-15 07:37:15

Bumping so this stays on people's view.

It's NOT just about acclimation - populations who live at high altitude for generations show genetic changes which allow them to adapt to the lowered oxygen pressure and keep a gradient which allows O2 transfer to the foetus. There are also physiological adaptations like larger placenta. I'm not sure whether that would make overnighting at lower altitude a good or bad idea!

Your body is working very very hard at the moment - I'd Keep pottering but reduce exertion as much as possible for the rest of the pregnancy to mitigate this if you can. I've had AMS myself after two rapid ascents and it is terrifying.

I'm a scientist, not a medic, so I can't give you much advice, other than I think you need to speak to someone with experience of this. I'm racking my brain trying to think of who could give you advise... Perhaps these guys?
ismm.org

International society of mountain medicine, in case the link doesn't work! Or the British mountaineering council might be able to point you to someone?

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