Can Ibuprofen Fend Off Altitude Sickness?

Ama Dablam in NepalThe results of a new study could deliver good news for adventure travelers. According to an article published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, the over-the-counter medication ibuprofen could be an effective agent in staving off the effects of altitude sickness such as nausea, headaches and fatigue.

The study was conducted in California’s White Mountains and featured 86 men and women who spent two days hiking at altitudes as high as 3381 meters (12,570 feet). Half the group was randomly selected to take four doses of 600 mg of ibuprofen over the course of the study while the other half – the control group – was given a placebo. At the end of the hike, 43 percent of the participants who took the drug reported that they experienced some symptoms of altitude sickness as compared to 69 percent of those who didn’t use the medication.

While the sample size for this study is small, the methodology behind it is strong. For instance, most of the hikers that participated live at or near sea level and all of them spent the night at 1249 meters (4100 feet) before starting their trek. They took their first dose of ibuprofen about six hours before they started hiking and then drove up to 3566 meters (11,700 feet), where they took a second dose as they hit the trail. The participants then proceeded to the highest point of the hike, took a third dose and spent the night at that altitude. The following morning, before proceeding down, they took their fourth and final dose. The results speak for themselves – a 26 percent drop in the likelihood of suffering the effects of altitude sickness.

Many adventure travelers love to visit high altitude destinations such as the Andes, Alps and Himalaya. For those who routinely suffer from acute mountain sickness while traveling, this news could be a potential godsend that allows them to visit places they may not have considered before. Obviously, further research will need to be conducted but the results so far are very promising. Perhaps packing a bottle of ibuprofen, also known as Advil and Motrin, on your next adventure could be the difference between a miserable trip and a great one.