Maybe low oxygen saturation isn’t such a big deal

Everest climbers have numbers that would be terrifying at sea level

The blood readings established what has long been suspected – that high-altitude climbers have incredibly low levels of oxygen in their blood, which at sea-level would only be seen in patients close to death.

The figures they have got are quite incredible. They are phenomenally low oxygen levels
Anaesthetist Dr Andy Tomlinson

The average arterial oxygen level was 3.28 kilopascals or kPa – the lowest was 2.55 kPa.

The normal value in humans is 12-14 kPa and patients with a level below 8 kPa are considered critically ill.

Expedition leader Dr Mike Grocott said: “We rarely see below 6 kPa in our patients.

“Yet our readings were well below this and we were walking and talking and functioning normally.

“This gives us some perspective about what levels of oxygen deprivation people can tolerate.”

He said some critically ill patients may have adapted to the low oxygen levels and may not need the aggressive interventions, such as ventilation, that are currently given to get blood oxygen levels closer to normal ranges.

“All these interventions carry a risk of harm and you have to weigh up the benefits versus potential damage to organs like the lungs.

So how do you do the testing to find out what kind of blood-gas levels are OK in actual patients?

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