'Mountain madness' found to be a real psychosis

January 6, 2018

(HealthDay)—The "madness" mountain climbers often experience isn't a type of altitude sickness, as once thought, but rather an actual psychotic disorder, a new study suggests.

The study authors explained that mountaineers can suddenly lose touch with reality. Some believe they're being chased. Others start talking to an imaginary person, or talk without making any sense.

Now, researchers have given this common phenomenon a definition and a name: isolated high-altitude psychosis.

"In our study, we found that there was a group of symptoms which are purely psychotic," said co-author Hermann Brugger, head of the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine in Italy, part of Eurac Research. These symptoms are not linked to brain swelling at high altitude or other problems like fluid loss or infections, he explained in a news release from the research center.

Isolated psychosis appears to be most common when climbers are higher than 7,000 meters (about 23,000 feet, or 4.35 miles) above sea level, the study found. Its cause remains unknown, but the researchers believe that lack of oxygen and simply being completely dependent on oneself could trigger it.

The cure: Come down the . Symptoms then go away, without any signs of lasting damage.

The researchers drew their conclusions from information collected on about 80 cases of psychosis, primarily from writings about mountain climbing in Germany.

According to study co-author Katharina Hufner, of University Clinic in Innsbruck, Austria, "This discovery has allowed us to make a more thorough investigation of temporary psychoses in otherwise completely healthy people—an investigation which might yield important indications for the understanding of psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia."

And, she added, "There are probably unknown numbers of unreported accidents and deaths caused by psychoses. To reduce the number of such accidents, it is of the greatest importance to disseminate cognitive coping strategies which the mountaineers themselves, or with the help of their partners, can apply directly while on the mountain."

Explore further: Isolated psychosis during exposure to very high and extreme altitude

More information: The National Safety Council has more about outdoor safety.

Related Stories

Isolated psychosis during exposure to very high and extreme altitude

December 14, 2017
It is relatively well known that mountain climbers can suffer psychotic episodes at extreme altitudes, and has been frequently mentioned in mountain literature. Doctors have generally associated this with acute altitude sickness. ...

High altitude climbers at risk for brain bleeds

November 28, 2012
New magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research shows that mountain climbers who experience a certain type of high altitude sickness have traces of bleeding in the brain years after the initial incident, according to a study ...

Autism traits increase thoughts of suicide in people with psychosis

December 14, 2017
People with autism traits who have psychosis are at a greater risk of depression and thoughts of suicide, new research has found.

US scientists head to Mount Everest for research

April 20, 2012
(AP) -- A team of American scientists and researchers flew to the Mount Everest region on Friday to set up a laboratory at the base of the world's highest mountain to study the effects of high altitude on humans.

Do most Mount Everest climbers use medications, and should they?

December 14, 2016
The ethics of using medications to improve performance and increase the likelihood of success in high-altitude climbing remains a controversial topic, and a new study that asked climbers of Mount Everest their opinions and ...

Recommended for you

WHO recognises 'compulsive sexual behaviour' as mental disorder

July 15, 2018
The World Health Organization has recognised "compulsive sexual behaviour" as a mental disorder, but said Saturday it remained unclear if it was an addiction on a par with gambling or drug abuse.

How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions

July 13, 2018
New research suggests how distancing yourself from a decision may help you make the choice that produces the most benefit for you and others affected.

Nature is proving to be awesome medicine for PTSD

July 13, 2018
The awe we feel in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to UC Berkeley research that tracked psychological and physiological changes in war veterans and at-risk inner-city youth ...

Is depression during pregnancy on the rise?

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Today's young mothers-to-be may be more likely to develop depression while pregnant than their own mothers were, a new study suggests.

Machine learning helps to predict the treatment outcomes of schizophrenia

July 12, 2018
Could the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders one day be aided through the help of machine learning? New research from the University of Alberta is bringing us closer to that future through a study published ...

Mental illness study to explore patients' self-assessments

July 12, 2018
As the mental health community pursues new ways to improve the lives of the severely ill, a University of Texas at Dallas researcher is focusing on what can be learned from patients' answers to a simple question: "How do ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RobertKarlStonjek
not rated yet Jan 06, 2018
The correlation with 7,000 meters is key: mountain climbers are just as isolated and just as dependent on themselves at lower altitudes and may even have attempted more challenging climbs at lower altitude and yet it requires a higher altitude to cause the condition.

Psychosis occurs for a reason, it is not, as some psychoanalysts believed, a result of flawed thinking or childhood trauma. The two components of psychosis is the imposing invasive condition and way the person interprets the first component.

Why would they say that the psychosis linked to high altitude isn't a kind of altitude sickness when clearly altitude sickness includes a form of psychosis? It is a ridiculous statement and completely unwarranted. They explain some of how altitude sickness works and then deny the existence of the very phenomena they are explaining. It is a childish attempt to hijack the condition and steer it away from neuroscience to keep it within psychiatry alone. Deplorable behaviour.
jhnycmltly
not rated yet Feb 04, 2018
"it seems possible that the erythremia was one of the factors responsible for the appearance of the psychosis"

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.