March 21, 2012
Ibuprofen May Help Cure Altitude Sickness
A new study by the Stanford University Medical Center reports that ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory medication that is used often as a painkiller, may prove effective at curbing the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and poor appetite.
The researchers did a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 86 men and women, 58 men and 28 women. They traveled to the White Mountains northeast of Bishop, Ca. The participants stayed the night at 4,110 feet and were given 600 milligrams of either ibuprofen or placebo at 8 a.m. Next they headed up to 11,700 feet where they were given a second dose at 2 p.m. They then hiked 3 miles up to 12,570 feet where a third dose was administered at 8 p.m. They then spent the night on the mountain.
The researchers found, through a questionnaire, that of the 44 participants who took ibuprofen, 19 of them (43%) came down with symptoms of altitude sickness, while 29 of them (69%) receiving placebo came down with symptoms. The conclusion being that ibuprofen reduced the incidence of altitude sickness by 26 percent.
The researchers also observed that those who took the drug suffered from less severe symptoms compared to the placebo group. But, according to the press release, the reduction in severity was not statistically significant, based on the self-reporting survey.
Researchers don´t know exactly what biological mechanisms cause altitude sickness, but some think the lack of oxygen causes the brain to swell with fluids. Ibuprofen is thought to reduce the inflammation, because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Other medications, such as acetazolamide and dexamethasone, are available for the treatment for acute mountain sickness. But, their side effects are more severe than those of ibuprofen. Dr. Grant Lipman, author of the study, says “The safety profile of ibuprofen makes it more attractive then dexamethasone, which has been associated with hyperglycemia, adrenal suppression, delirium, depression, insomnia and mania.”
The researchers suggest a dosage of 600 milligrams. Even though more would possibly be better prevention, there are risks of gastrointestinal and kidney problems if somebody becomes dehydrated.
The study is published online at the Annals of Emergency Medicine.