Multiple pharmacologic medicines have been used to treat acute mountain sickness with varying degrees of success. A recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, analyzed the benefits of different medicines, and came to a conclusion that acetazolamide is effective in controlling the symptoms of acute mountain sickness.
Traveling rapidly to elevations greater than 8000 feet, results in mountain sickness. It is characterized by a feeling akin to a strong hangover wherein the patient suffers from headache, nausea and tiredness. It usually gets over spontaneously within a day or two, but in case the headache or shortness of breath worsens, it may require medical attention. Certain people are genetically predisposed to suffer from this condition.
The researchers from Indiana University School of Medicine conducted a meta-analysis of various studies carried out since the year 2000 to test the efficacy of various drugs used to treat acute mountain sickness. The researchers studied the results of seven randomized control trials which involved medicines like acetazolamide, gabapentin, sumatriptan, magnesium, antioxidants and a medicinal herb called as Ginkgo biloba. It was seen that acetazolamide in a daily dose of 250 to 750 mg was effective in controlling the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. However, it was found to be associated with parasthesias or pins and needles sensation, increased urinary frequency and an altered taste. Researchers also noticed that both sumatriptan as well as gabapentin were effective in treating acute mountain sickness. However, gabapentin resulted in somnolence.
Acetazolamide exerts its beneficial effect by helping the patient to breathe faster. This, in turn, increases the amount of oxygen diffusing into the blood, and helps the patient to acclimatize to the high altitude faster. It was found to bring relief from the symptoms of acute mountain sickness in every one of three patients. A 500 milligram tablet of acetazolamide costs around $6. Smaller dose of acetazolamide is associated with fewer side effects, though its efficacy also reduces proportionally.