Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Altitude Sickness Prevention

A gradual ascent is the best preventive measure for altitude illness. The human body can usually adapt if the sleeping altitude is not increased by more than 1,000 feet per day. Avoid rapid ascent to above 7,500 feet. Once a person has reached 10,000 feet, sleeping altitudes should not increase by more than 1,500 feet per day.

The following will usually help prevent high altitude illness:

  • Avoid physical exertion for the first 1-2 days at altitude.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol.

Medications that may help prevent high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema include:

The early use of acetazolamide can help prevent high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema. It can also speed acclimatization, but will not replace a gradual ascent. This medicine is usually taken a day or two before reaching altitude, and for the first 2-3 days at altitude.

Continue to Altitude Sickness Complications

Last Updated: Dec 15, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Altitude Sickness References
  1. Basnyat B, Murdoch DR. High-altitude illness. Lancet. 2003 Jun 7;361(9373):1967-74. [12801752]
  2. Foster PP, Feiveson AH, Boriek AM. Predicting time to decompression illness during exercise at altitude, based on formation and growth of bubbles. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2000 Dec;279(6):R2317-28. [11080100]
  3. Gallagher SA, Hackett PH. High-altitude illness. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2004 May;22(2):329-55, viii. Review. [15163571]
  4. Gertsch JH, Basnyat B, Johnson EW, Onopa J, Holck PS. Randomised, double blind, placebo controlled comparison of ginkgo biloba and acetazolamide for prevention of acute mountain sickness among Himalayan trekkers: the prevention of high altitude illness trial (PHAIT). BMJ. 2004 Apr 3;328(7443):797. [15070635]
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