Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)


… Prepared by TMA Member Maitland: Dr Puru Sagar Chromis

A survey among travelers departing from Cuzco International airport in Peru showed that almost half of all travelers (48.5%) interviewed reported symptoms of altitude sickness, and 17% had severe AMS. One in five travelers with AMS was forced to alter their travel plans. Three people were admitted to hospital and one was urgently evacuated.

Only one-sixth (16.6%) of the group used Acetazolamide (Diamox) for prevention of AMS, but more than 60% used coca leaf products.

Unfortunately, the use of coca-leaf products (usually tea) was found to be associated with a greater risk of developing AMS in this study. Use of coca-leaf can have other negative side-effects (changes in circulation and cardiac arrhythmias) as well as a positive urine drug screen to cocaine.

Other recent reviews have found that Diamox 250 mg half tab twice daily reduced the risk of developing AMS by about 48%. There was no benefit in taking higher doses. Diamox is strongly recommended for travelers flying into Cuzco (elevation 3,225 m) and is often required at lower altitudes (around 2,000 m).

These scientific studies underline the need to obtain accurate and up-to-date advice from an experienced travel medicine practitioner before undertaking trips to altitude. Prevention is really worthwhile.

The Travelling Well iPad app or iBook from Dr Deb the Travel Doctor has very useful information on preventing and recognizing altitude illness.

 

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