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Original research
Alterations to cardiac morphology and function among high-altitude workers: a retrospective cohort study

Abstract

Objectives Exposure to high altitude can affect human health, including the development of adverse cardiovascular effects. This study aimed to investigate alterations in cardiac morphology and function in high-altitude workers and to identify risk factors associated with cardiac abnormalities.

Methods A retrospective cohort study was conducted with 286 Qinghai-Tibetan Railroad maintenance workers. Participant data were collected from company personnel records. Data on echocardiography and diagnosis of cardiac abnormalities were extracted from participants’ medical records. Time-to-event analysis was used to investigate the risk of cardiac abnormalities among participants with different baseline characteristics and identify risk factors associated with cardiac abnormalities that developed as a result of working at high altitude.

Results A total of 173 participants had developed cardiac abnormalities during the follow-up period. The most common cardiac abnormality was right atrial enlargement, followed by left ventricular diastolic dysfunction and tricuspid regurgitation. Among participants with cardiac abnormalities, the median follow-up time was 17 months. Compared with participants who were younger than 20 years and working at altitude <4000 m, participants older at employment and working at extremely high altitude were more likely to develop cardiac abnormalities. Nearly 40% of the participants who worked at altitude <4000 m remained without cardiac abnormalities during the follow-up period.

Conclusions Over 60% of participants developed cardiac abnormalities after working at high altitude, predominantly right heart enlargement and left ventricular diastolic dysfunction. Age at employment and workplace altitude were significant risk factors for cardiac abnormalities. Enhanced regular physical examinations are recommended for high-altitude workers.

  • hygiene / occupational hygiene
  • cardiovascular
  • longitudinal studies
  • epidemiology

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