Determinants of blood oxygenation during pregnancy in Andean and European residents of high altitude

Marco Vargas, Enrique Vargas, Colleen G. Julian, J. Fernando Armaza, Armando Rodriguez, Wilma Tellez, Susan Niermeyer, Megan Wilson, Esteban Parra, Mark Shriver, Lorna G. Moore

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43 Scopus citations


High altitude decreases birth weight, but this effect is diminished in long vs. short-resident, high-altitude populations. We asked whether women from long vs. short-resident, high-altitude populations had higher arterial oxygenation levels by comparing 42 Andean and 26 European residents of La Paz, Bolivia (3,600 m), serially during pregnancy (weeks 20, 30, and 36) and again 4 mo postpartum. Pregnancy raised hypoxic ventilatory sensitivity threefold, resting ventilation (V̇E), and arterial O2 saturation (SaO2) in both groups. Ancestry, as identified using 81 genetic markers, correlated with respiratory pattern, such that greater Andean ancestry was associated with higher respiratory frequency and lower tidal volume. Pregnancy increased total blood and plasma volume ∼40% in both groups without changing red blood cell mass relative to body weight; hence, hemoglobin fell. The hemoglobin decline was compensated for by the rise in V̇E and SaO2 with the result that arterial O2 content (CaO2) was maintained near nonpregnant levels in both groups. Birth weights were similar for all Andean and European babies, but after adjusting for variation in gestational age, maternal height and parity, Andeans weighed 209 g more than Europeans. Babies with heavier birth weights and greater ponderal indices were born to Andean women with higher V̇E during pregnancy. We concluded that while maternal V̇E and arterial oxygenation were important, some factor other than higher Ca O2 was responsible for protecting Andeans from altitude-associated reductions in fetal growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R1303-R1312
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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