1. To investigate the mechanisms of acute mountain sickness, 22 subjects travelled to 3100 m by road and the following day walked to 4300 m on Mount Kenya. Control measurements were made over 2 days at 1300 m before ascent and for 2 days after arrival at 4300 m. These included body weight, 24 h urine volume, 24 h sodium and potassium excretion, blood haemoglobin, packed cell volume, and symptom score for acute mountain sickness. In 15 subjects blood samples were taken for assay of plasma aldosterone and atrial natriuretic peptide.
2. Altitude and the exercise in ascent resulted in a marked decrease in 24 h urine volume and sodium excretion. Aldosterone levels were elevated on the first day and atrial natriuretic peptide levels were higher on both altitude days compared with control.
3. Acute mountain sickness symptom scores showed a significant negative correlation with 24 h urinary sodium excretion on the first altitude day. Aldosterone levels tended to be lowest in subjects with low symptom scores and higher sodium excretion. No correlation was found between changes in haemoglobin concentration, packed cell volume, 24 h urine volume or body weight and acute mountain sickness symptom score.
4. Atrial natriuretic peptide levels at low altitude showed a significant inverse correlation with acute mountain sickness symptom scores on ascent.