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Soroche, the South American word for the "mountain sickness" experienced by people entering high altitude regions such as the Andes or the Sierra Madre in Mexico. The Spanish conquistadores were the first in the New World to write about it. Symptoms include fatigue, headache, forgetfulness, extreme thirst, nausea, and a propensity to frostbite and respiratory infection. Although the percentage of oxygen in the air remains constant, air pressure decreases at high altitudes; thus there is decreased pressure driving oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream, resulting in hypoxia, or a deficient level of oxygen. Indigenous peoples have adapted with increased lung capacity and higher numbers of red blood cells; newcomers can successfully adapt over time. Traditionally, coca leaves have been used as a remedy. Some scholars believe soroche has had a historical impact, in that, for example, it decreases fertility and may have helped slow the increase of the European population in the Andes.

See alsoDiseases .


Paul T. Baker and Michael A. Little, eds., Man in the Andes (1976).

Additional Bibliography

León Velarde, F., and A. Arregui. Desadaptación a la vida en las grandes Alturas. Lima: Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos: Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, 1994.

                                      Camilla Townsend