|Don's Home Travel Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)||Contact|
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)Also referred to as hypobaropathy, "the altitude bends", or soroche.
Symptoms | Causes | Prevention | Treatment | Sources
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) (TD) occurs commonly at altitudes above 3,000 m./10,000 ft and usually causes a severe headache, exhaustion and feeling generally unwell. Rarely (but even at these altitudes) the condition progresses to cause more serious problems which are potentially fatal - Pulmonary and Cerebral Edema.
It will start at High Altitudes, 8,000 - 12,000 feet (a few people can get symptoms as low as 5,000 ft); It occurs in 17 to 24% of those who travel from sea level to 8,000 ft.; 7% will have severe headache. At 10,000 ft. 75% of people will have mild symptoms. The incidence of symptoms increases at Very High Altitudes (12,000 - 18,000 feet [3,658 - 5,487 meters]) with 67% becoming ill at 14,000 feet. There is little data for non-mountaineers at Extremely High Altitudes, greater than 18,000 ft.
In the Death Zone, above 8,000 m (26,000') your body can not metabolize food and starts eating itself.
Note: Most airplanes are pressurized to the equivalent of 7,000 - 8,000 ft.
Newer planes may pressurize down to 5,000 ft equivalent.
Preventing Altitude Illness During Active Vacations
There are two other severe forms of altitude illness, High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) (severe headache, confusion, double vision, loss of coordination and delirious thinking) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) (a cough, rapid pulse and breathing, shortness of breath, and ultimately turning blue and producing frothy, bloody foam from the lungs). Both of these happen less frequently (< 1%), especially to those who are properly acclimatized. When they do occur, it is usually with people going too high too fast or going very high and staying there.
Preventing Altitude Illness During Active Vacations
MedicationsThe mainstay of treatment of AMS is rest, fluids, and mild analgesics: acetaminophen (paracetamol), aspirin, or ibuprofen. Source Base Camp MD
Acetazolamide (Diamox ®)
Acetazolamide forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, the base form of carbon dioxide; this re-acidifies the blood, balancing the effects of the hyperventilation that occurs at altitude in an attempt to get oxygen.
Diamox allows you to breathe deeper and faster so that you metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygenation. This is especially helpful at night when respiratory drive is decreased.
How to take Diamox:
If you decide to use the drug, I suggest Diamox 250mg (one tablet) is taken twice daily as a trial at sea level for two days several weeks before a visit to altitude. Assuming no unpleasant side effects are experienced, take the drug in the same dose for one to three days before staying at 3500m (11,500 ft.) and thereafter for two or three days until you feel acclimatised, for about five days in all.
Caffeine and alcohol may affect the way Diamox works.
Like all drugs Diamox may have unwanted effects. Tingling of the fingers, face and feet is the commonest; it is not a reason for stopping the drug unless the symptoms are intolerable. Dizziness, vomiting, drowsiness, confusion and rashes have all been reported but are unusual. It makes many people (including myself) feel a little "off colour". Exceptionally the drug has caused more serious problems with blood formation and/or the kidney. Those who are allergic to the sulphonamide antibiotics may also be allergic to Diamox. Carbonated drinks taste strange when you are taking Diamox.
See Acetazolamide at WebMD.
Dexamethasone (a steroid) is a prescription drug that decreases brain and other swelling reversing the effects of AMS. Dosage is typically 4 mg twice a day for a few days starting with the ascent.
Recent studies indicate viagra is effective against altitude sickness. I couldn't find any details on dosage etc.
In a study of mountain climbers on a Himalayan expedition, Ginkgo was found to prevent acute altitude sickness and cold-related vascular problems. The results were that none of the climbers taking Ginkgo got sick and 41% of those who took a placebo did. More recent studies refute these results.
Which Ginko -
There is only one Ginkgo that I know of that today's medical research is based on. Any other Ginkgo is virtually absent of scientific support. And, you can find it in your local vitamin store. Read the label. It should say each of the following: 50:1 extract, 24% flavonglycosides, and a minimum of 6% terpene lactones. The 6% terpene lactones is the most critical measurement, as this is where the Ginkgolide B will be. Check to see if there is a minimum of .8% Ginkgolide B claimed on the label. If so, you are probably all right.
Garlic helps thin the blood which will help with altitude sickness.
Breathing oxygen reduces the effects of altitude illnesses.
Severe AMS presents as an increase in the severity of the aforementioned symptoms, including shortness of breath at rest, inability to walk, decreasing mental status, and fluid buildup in the lungs. Severe AMS requires immediate descent to lower altitudes 2,000 - 4,000 feet.
Sources of Information for the above:
Outdoor Action at princeton.edu UIAA Mountain Medicine Centre Altitude and Acclimatization at TradGirl Healthopedia.com An Altitude Tutorial from the International Socieity for Mountain Medicine, 9/8/2001,
Acetazolamide - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Base Camp MD - Guide to High Altitude Medicine
Diamox Oral : Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Pictures, Warnings & Dosing - WebMD
PROCARDIA® and Viagra are registred trademarks of Pfizer.
Adalat CC® is a aregistered trademark of Bayer.
Return to Travel.