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Open Access Research article

Population level determinants of acute mountain sickness among young men: a retrospective study

Xiaoxiao Li12, Fasheng Tao3, Tao Pei12, Haiyan You12, Yan Liu12 and Yuqi Gao12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Service, College of High Altitude Military Medicine, Third Military Medical University, 30 Gaotanyan Street, Shapingba District, Chongqing, China

2 Key Laboratory of High Altitude Medicine, Ministry of Education, Third Military Medical University, 30 Gaotanyan Street, Shapingba District, Chongqing, China

3 Urumqi General Hospital of Xinjiang Military District, Urumqi, Xinjiang, China

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:740  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-740

Published: 28 September 2011



Many visitors, including military troops, who enter highland regions from low altitude areas may suffer from acute mountain sickness (AMS), which negatively impacts workable man-hours and increases healthcare costs. The aim of this study was to evaluate the population level risk factors and build a multivariate model, which might be applicable to reduce the effects of AMS on Chinese young men traveling to this region.


Chinese highland military medical records were used to obtain data of young men (n = 3727) who entered the Tibet plateau between the years of 2006-2009. The relationship between AMS and travel profile, demographic characteristics, and health behaviors were evaluated by logistic regression. Univariate logistic models estimated the crude odds ratio. The variables that showed significance in the univariate model were included in a multivariate model to derive adjusted odds ratios and build the final model. Data corresponding to odd and even years (2 subsets) were analyzed separately and used in a simple cross-validation.


Univariate analysis indicated that travel profile, prophylactic use, ethnicity, and province of birth were all associated with AMS in both subsets. In multivariate analysis, young men who traveled from lower altitude (600-800 m vs. 1300-1500 m, adjusted odds ratio (AOR) = 1.32-1.44) to higher altitudes (4100-4300 m vs. 2900-3100 m, AOR = 3.94-4.12; 3600-3700 m vs. 2900-3100 m, AOR = 2.71-2.74) by air or rapid land transport for emergency mission deployment (emergency land deployment vs. normal land deployment, AOR = 2.08-2.11; normal air deployment vs. normal land deployment, AOR = 2.00-2.20; emergency air deployment vs. normal land deployment, AOR = 2.40-3.34) during the cold season (cold vs. warm, AOR = 1.25-1.28) are at great risk for developing AMS. Non-Tibetan male soldiers (Tibetan vs. Han, AOR = 0.03-0.08), born and raised in lower provinces (eastern vs. northwestern, AOR = 1.32-1.39), and deployed without prophylaxis (prophylactic drug vs. none, AOR = 0.75-0.76), also represented a population at significantly increased risk for AMS. The predicted model was built; the area under receiver operating characteristic curve was 0.703.


Before a group of young men first enter a high altitude area, it is important that a health service plan should be made referring to the group's travel profile and with respect to young men's ethnicity and province of birth. Low-cost Chinese traditional prophylactic drugs might have some effect on decreasing the risk of AMS, although this needs further verification.

acute mountain sickness; risk factor; high altitude; young men; logistic regression; retrospective study