Newborns at altitude: less breathing problems, higher chance of brain hemorrhage

The September 2018 issue of the Journal of High Altitude Medicine and Biology has an article reviewing statistics on newborn health in the Mountain Census Division: AR, CO, ID, MN. NM NV, UT and WY.  The lead author, Robert Levine and his coauthors found that newborns in this region have “by far the lowest infant mortality rates for respiratory distress.”  Conversely, there is a higher incidence of intraventricular hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain, not caused by trauma. This can be a complication of prematurity.

The authors analyzed about 70 million births and 12,000 deaths in over 3000 counties between 2007-2015. They compared maternal education, age, and marital status. The mean elevation of the mountain division counties is 5,725 feet, with the mean for the rest of the US being 2,500 ft. Colorado ranges from a low of 3317 ft to 14440 with a mean of 6800 ft. There were 30 counties above 8000 ft.

Their conclusion :”…we believe the most plausible interpretation of the present data is that they raise questions abut whether maternal residnce at high altitude has uniformly adverse health effects on infant mortality.”

In other words, maybe it’s not all that bad to live in the mountains!