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In young Chinese men of the highland immigrant population, chronic mountain sickness (CMS) is a major public health problem. The aim of this study was to measure the disease burden of CMS in this population.
We used disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) to estimate the disease burden of CMS. Disability weights were derived using the person trade-off methodology. CMS diagnoses, symptom severity, and individual characteristics were obtained from surveys collected in Tibet in 2009 and 2010. The DALYs of individual patients and the DALYs/1,000 were calculated.
Disability weights were obtained for 21 CMS health stages. The results of the analyses of the two surveys were consistent with each other. At different altitudes, the CMS rates ranged from 2.1-37.4%; the individual DALYs of patients ranged from 0.13-0.33, and the DALYs/1,000 ranged from 3.60-52.78. The age, highland service years, blood pressure, heart rate, smoking rate, and proportion of the sample working in engineering or construction were significantly higher in the CMS group than in the non-CMS group (p<0.05). These variables were also positively associated with the individual DALYs (p<0.05). Among the symptoms, headaches caused the largest proportion of DALYs.
The results show that CMS imposes a considerable burden on Chinese immigrants to Tibet. Immigrants with characteristics such as a higher residential altitude, more advanced age, longer highland service years, being a smoker, and working in engineering or construction were more likely to develop CMS and to increase the disease burden. Higher blood pressure and heart rate as a result of CMS were also positively associated with the disease burden. The authorities should pay attention to the highland disease burden and support the development and application of DALYs studies of CMS and other highland diseases.