Mountain News: Ibuprofen can help altitude effects 

Medication reduced attitude sickness symptoms by 26 per cent

click to enlarge High altitude climbers like John Furneaux, pictured here on Mt. Everest, are learning about the advantages of climbing with Ibuprofen.
  • High altitude climbers like John Furneaux, pictured here on Mt. Everest, are learning about the advantages of climbing with Ibuprofen.

PALO ALTO, Calif. — A study has found that Ibuprofen can reduce the incidence of acute mountain sickness, which occurs in more than 25 per cent of people who travel to higher altitudes each year.

Grant Lipman, the Stanford University researcher who led the study, told the Washington Post that altitude sickness is like a "really nasty hangover."

Symptoms include headache fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomitting and poor appetite.

In the study of 58 men and 28 women, Ibuprofen reduced attitude sickness symptoms by 26 per cent.

The volunteers needed to be healthy enough to hike at high elevations, but were not elite climbers. In summer of 2010, they were taken from near sea level to the White Mountains, northeast of Bishop, Calif., where they spent the night at 1,250 metres.

In the morning, they were given 600 milligrams of Ibuprofen or a placebo before heading up the mountain to a staging area at 3,500 metres. They were given a second dose at 2 p.m. before hiking up three more miles to an elevation of 3,800 metres, where they received a third dose before spending the night on the mountain.

According to study results published in the March issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine, 43 per cent of those who took Ibuprofen developed acute mountain sickness, compared to 69 per cent of those who were given the placebo. The severity of symptoms was also higher for those who received placebos.

Two drugs, acetazolamide and dexamethasone, are currently approved to prevent and treat the condition. But they are prescription only and carry a risk of side effects. Dr. Robert Roach, director of the Altitude Research Center at the University of Colorado-Denver School of Medicine, said many doctors are reluctant to prescribe the two drugs unless a person has experienced altitude sickness before.

Ibuprofen appears to be nearly as effective as acetazolamide and dexamethasone, so it may be an option for people travelling to high altitude who don't yet know if they're susceptible, Roach told the Washington Post.

He said that 20 to 30 per cent of people will experience sickness at 2,100 metres, and up to 50 per cent will get sick at 3,000 metres.

Riders reminded to mind their manners

WHITEFISH, Mont. — Ski area representatives at Whitefish Mountain Resort are using the word "irritated" and promising to seize season passes, at the very least, if they find people violating closures.

Their ire was precipitated by several close calls of people skiing in areas where avalanche control work was being done or on slopes where winch cats were being used.

"With a winch cat, there is a cable out there that could kill a person, said resort spokeswoman Riley Polumbus. "When it's dark, skiers don't know where these cables are, and our groomers don't expect to see a skier or hiker out there."

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