TUESDAY March 20, 2012 — The anti-inflammatory and painkiller ibuprofen seems to reduce the risk of altitude sickness, according to a new study.
Headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and poor appetite are among the symptoms of altitude sickness, which affects more than 25 percent of Americans who travel to high elevations each year to ski, hike or camp.
If unrecognized or untreated, altitude sickness can lead to high-altitude cerebral edema, a potentially fatal swelling of the brain.
The Stanford University study, which included 58 men and 28 women, was conducted in California’s White Mountains. The participants spent the first night at 4,100 feet altitude. The following morning, they were given either 600 milligrams of ibuprofen or a placebo before hiking up the mountain to a staging area at 11,700 feet. After receiving a second dose at 2 p.m., the participants continued their hike to 12,570 feet, where they received a third dose at 8 p.m. before spending the night on the mountain.
Symptoms of altitude sickness developed in 19 participants who received ibuprofen (43 percent) and 29 of those who received the placebo (69 percent), indicating ibuprofen reduced the incidence of altitude sickness by 26 percent.
Among the participants who developed altitude sickness, those who took ibuprofen had less severe symptoms than those who took the placebo, though it was not statistically significant.
The study appears online March 20 in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
“Ibuprofen could be a way to prevent [altitude sickness] in a significant number of the tens of millions of people who travel to high altitudes each year,” lead author Dr. Grant Lipman, an emergency-medicine physician at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and a clinical assistant professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, Calif., said in a university news release.
Ibuprofen is a widely available over-the-counter drug that is safer and causes fewer side effects than two medications (acetazolamide and dexamethasone) currently used to prevent altitude sickness, the researchers noted.