Ibuprofen Effective In Treating Altitude Sickness [Study]

Good news for individuals who suffer from altitude sickness. A recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that the widely available, over-the-counter medication ibuprofen may help relieve altitude sickness, which is also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS) or simply mountain sickness.

The symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. Some sufferers describe the condition as feeling similar to a bad hangover. AMS typically occurs for most sufferers at 8,000 feet above sea level and higher.

When left untreated, altitude sickness can cause cerebral edema, which is a swelling on the brain that can be fatal.

To determine the effectiveness of ibuprofen on treating AMS, researchers at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and the Stanford University School of Medicine studied 86 individuals (58 men and 28 women) in a double-blind study that used placebos and ibuprofen on the participants. The participants took three 400mg doses of ibuprofen.

Of the participants in the study who were given ibuprofen, 43% exhibited symptoms of altitude sickness compared to 69% of the participants who were given placebos. Furthermore, those who had been given a placebo had worse symptoms than those who had been given ibuprofen.

In other words, ibuprofen can reduce the severity of AMS in some individuals.

Ibuprofen is both a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory. One theory behind AMS is that the thinner and less oxygen-rich air at higher altitudes causes the body to pump more fluids to the brain, which results in inflammation and swelling. Ibuprofen may help relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness by reducing the inflammation in the brain.

Grant Lipman, MD, remarks on the results of the study:

“We suggest that availability alone makes ibuprofen an appealing drug for individuals who travel to high altitudes. In addition, ibuprofen was effective when taken six hours before ascent, in contrast to acetazolamide [another drug used to treat AMS], whose recommendations include that it be started the day before travel to high altitude…”

More research needs to be conducted on whether an even higher dose of ibuprofen is even more effective at relieving altitude sickness in sufferers and whether the benefits of a higher dosage outweigh the risks.

If you suffer from altitude sickness, will you take ibuprofen the next time you are in the mountains or flying?