What is Acetazolamide?
Acetazolamide is a medication primarily used for the prevention and treatment of altitude sickness, which can occur when traveling to high altitudes.
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that can occur when individuals ascend to high altitudes too quickly, typically above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). It is caused by the reduced availability of oxygen and the decreased air pressure at higher elevations. Decreased air pressure leads to a lower partial pressure of oxygen. This change in oxygen availability affects the functioning of your body’s tissues and organs and if ascended too rapidly, the body may struggle to acclimatize.
Prevention of Altitude Sickness
The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to ascend gradually, allowing the body time to acclimate to the changing conditions. Here are some tips to minimize the risk:
- Gradual ascent: Increase your elevation gradually, especially when ascending above 8,000 feet. Take regular breaks during your climb to allow your body to adjust.
- Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, to stay hydrated. Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as they can contribute to dehydration.
- Physical fitness: Maintaining good physical fitness before your trip can help improve your body’s ability to adapt to altitude changes.
- Acetazolamide: Commonly prescribed when used for altitude sickness prevention to promote acclimatization, acetazolamide is usually started 1-2 days before ascending to high altitudes and 48 hours after arrival at highest altitude, or until the day of descent, whichever is shorter.
How Acetazolamide works
Acetazolamide works by stimulating the kidneys to excrete more bicarbonate, which leads to an increase in the acidity of the blood. This acidification of the blood triggers the body to breathe more rapidly and deeply, compensating for the reduced oxygen availability at high altitudes. This helps to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness and allows the body to acclimatize more effectively to the lower oxygen levels.
Connect with your Rockdoc Travel Medicine Professional here to book a consultation to discuss your trip and obtain the prescription and vaccinations to travel with peace of mind.
We have made every effort to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the provided information, however, it is not feasible for us to update daily. Please book a virtual consultation with one of our Travel Medicine Professionals for current, personalized advice and answers to any questions you may have.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness can present with various symptoms, which may range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
Some individuals may also experience shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and a general feeling of malaise. It’s important to note that symptoms can vary from person to person, and they may not necessarily appear immediately upon arrival at high altitudes.
Altitude sickness should never be ignored or underestimated. If symptoms persist or worsen, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately, as more severe forms of altitude sickness, such as high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Available travel vaccinations and medications
We offer the following travel vaccinations and medications:
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