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High-altitude cerebral oedema mimicking stroke


High-altitude cerebral oedema (HACO) is the most fatal high-altitude illness seen by rural physicians practising in high-altitude areas. HACO presents clinically with cerebellar ataxia, features of raised intracranial pressure (ICP) and coma. Early identification is important as delay in diagnosis can be fatal. We present two cases of HACO presenting with focal deficits mimicking stroke. The first patient presented with left-sided hemiplegia associated with the rapid deterioration in the sensorium. Neuroimaging revealed features suggestive of vasogenic oedema. The second patient presented with monoplegia of the lower limb. Neuroimaging revealed perfusion deficit in anterior cerebral artery territory. Both patients were managed with dexamethasone and they improved dramatically. Clinical picture and neuroimaging closely resembled acute ischaemic stroke in both cases. Thrombolysis in these patients would have been disastrous. Recent travel to high altitude, young age, absence of atherosclerotic risk factors and features of raised ICP concomitantly directed the diagnosis to HACO.

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