Introduction Epidemiological studies suggest that hypobaric hypoxia at high altitude poses a risk for developing venous thromboembolism. The cause of this observed hypercoagulability remains unclear. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate the effect of hypobaric hypoxia at 3,883 m above sea level on thrombin generation and platelet activation. Methods After complying with medical ethical procedures, 18 participants were recruited, of whom 1 had to leave the study prematurely due to mild acute mountain sickness. Blood was drawn first at 50 m above sea level and second at 3,883 m altitude after gradual acclimatization for 6 days. Thrombin generation was measured in whole blood, platelet-rich plasma and platelet-poor plasma. Platelet activation was assessed using a whole blood flow-cytometric assay. Coagulation factor levels, D-dimer levels and markers of dehydration and inflammation were measured. Results Hypobaric hypoxia at 3,883 m altitude caused increased thrombin generation, measured as peak height and endogenous thrombin potential, in whole blood, platelet-rich and platelet-poor plasma without or at low tissue factor concentration. The elevated thrombin generation was mediated by increased factor VIII levels and not caused by dehydration or inflammation. In contrast, spontaneous and agonist-induced platelet activation was decreased at high altitude. Conclusion Hypobaric hypoxia causes increased factor VIII-mediated thrombin generation. The hypercoagulability was balanced by decreased platelet activation. These findings may explain why venous, and not arterial thrombotic events occur more frequently at high altitude.
- platelet activation
- thrombin generation