High altitude training could prep surgical patients

Vulnerable surgical patients could be prepared in low oxygen environments, imitating the effects of high altitude activity, anaesthetists have suggested.

Anaesthetic researchers in London have conducted a small scale study with volunteers to see if the treatment would improve patient fitness before surgery.

They concluded that a low oxygen treatment improved haemoglobin levels significantly but not fitness.

For the study, reported in Anaesthesia, eight volunteers with a sedentary lifestyle spent two weeks at an altitude training centre in Ireland.

During the second week oxygen levels were reduced to the levels experienced in an airline flight.

Anaesthetist Professor Thomas Smith, head of aerospace medicine research at King’s College, London, said: “We know that athletes can use hypoxic canopies over their bed to simulate altitude exposure and that altitude can induce performance benefits after two to three weeks even in people who are extremely fit. We were interested in whether this approach could also benefit older patients ahead of major surgery, who due to sedentary lifestyles and low levels of fitness, are more at risk of negative postoperative outcomes.

“Whilst this study suggests that simulated altitude exposure may have potential advantages for older and sedentary patients, further studies are needed to explore this for home-based altitude prehabilitation.”

Potential for using simulated altitude as a means of prehabilitation: a physiology study. Anaesthesia 25 October 2023



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