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Imja Tse - October 2009

Exercise Imja Tse, the Defence Medical Services expedition to the Nepalese Himalayas, took place in October 2009. The expedition involved all ranks from the three services trekking and climbing in the Everest region of the Himalayas. Of particular note they trekked up to Kala Patthar to view Mt Everest and culminating in the assent of Imja Tse (Island Peak).

Significant medical research was undertaken prior to and during the expedition, furthering the understanding of the human body at altitude – how it changes and adapts and whether, by using the data they measure, they will be able to predict who may subsequently suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a common condition that affects millions of people each year who travel to high altitude. The symptoms include headache, stomach problems, difficulty sleeping and fatigue that can severely hinder performance at altitude. This can progress to the potentially life threatening High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE). The benefits from being able to predict who may develop these conditions is self evident.

At certain altitudes during the course of the expedition they measured the vital signs of the team volunteers as well as taking blood, saliva and urine samples for further analysis. This data, in conjunction with a daily Acute Mountain Sickness questionnaire, will be used to describe the physiological changes seen at altitude and hopefully find a simple test to predict who may suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness.

The size of the expedition team constituted one of the largest sample sizes that have undergone high altitude research in this way and the research will be submitted for publication in due course.

Without exception team and personal goals were met and many team members exceeded their own expectations.  They all gained immensely in terms of personal development and, research aside, they hope to able to use newly acquired and/or honed skills for the benefit of their colleagues on return to normal duty.

Prometheus was proud to be able to sponsor the expedition and play a small part in advancing the research and understanding of this difficult subject.