When Acetazolamide (Diamox) entered the market in 1982, it was designed by drug maker Teva to treat Glaucoma.
Adventurers accidentally discovered Diamox can help overcome the high Kilimanjaro altitude by acclimating them to the effects of low oxygen pressure, which is the cause of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Unfortunately, many myths surround this “wonder drug,” and we’re here to set the record straight.
Here’s what you can really expect from taking Diamox on your Kilimanjaro climb:
Is Diamox a Wonder Drug?
In 1982 Diamox was introduced to the medical market by Teva, a pharmaceutical company. It was originally designed to treat Glaucoma, but it was later discovered that one of the effects of the drug could be used to assist high-altitude climbers in acclimatizing to the effects of low oxygen pressure, the cause of acute mountain sickness (AMS).
It is not a cure, but rather a way to lessen the impacts of rapid altitude gain. It works by chemically re-acidifying the blood. This acts as a respiratory stimulant that accelerates acclimatization. It is a diuretic that forces your kidneys to excrete bicarbonate, so expect to urinate more (and drink more water) than you normally would.
Taking Diamox on a high Mount Kilimanjaro altitude climb is not a guarantee that you will not suffer from altitude sickness, but rather lessens the risk of you getting AMS.
Just the Facts About Diamox Please
MYTH: Diamox conceals altitude symptoms.
FACT: Diamox quickens acclimatization. As acclimatization occurs, symptoms improve. Diamox does not hide anything, so if you get altitude sickness (such as when adjusting to the Mount Kilimanjaro altitude, for example) you will still have symptoms. If you feel well, you are well.
MYTH: Diamox prevents AMS during rapid ascent.
FACT: This is not a myth, but rather a partial truth. Diamox lessens AMS risks and that’s why it is recommended for climbers on fast ascents. This protection is not absolute so don’t feel assured that a rapid ascent on Diamox is without big-time risk. If you ascend so rapidly that AMS strikes, it can hit you suddenly, severely and fatally.
MYTH: Diamox prevents AMS from getting worse during ascent.
FACT: Diamox does not protect against worsening AMS with a continued ascent.
MYTH: If your stop taking Diamox during your ascent, symptoms worsen.
FACT: There is no rebound effect. When Diamox is stopped, acclimatization slows to your natural rate. If AMS is still present, it takes longer for you to improve. If AMS is not present, you still need to ascend at a managed rate. You don’t get sick simply by stopping Diamox.
The Diamox Dilemma
Like all powerful drugs, Diamox has its upsides and downsides. The side effects could include, but are not limited to, fatigue, drowsiness, tingling fingers and toes, decreased libido, vomiting and diarrhea. However, to assuage worries, consider that the World Health Organization has placed it on its list of essential medications.
Everyone tolerates the drug differently, but for maximum impact when trekking at high altitudes, such as climbing Kilimanjaro, it’s best to follow your doctor’s recommended dose- usually 125mg to 250mg one to two days before the climb and then once or twice daily throughout the ascent.
So the dilemma is this – I know I’m prone to altitude sickness, but I hate taking drugs.
Adventure travel with Tusker and its advanced medical high altitude techniques gives you as good a chance to get to the top without drugs as any company on the mountain. But there is still no guarantee. Diamox could be that extra buffer you need to help get you to the top.
Consult your doctor, do your own homework and talk to others who have used the drug. It’s your body and your climb. Prepare for the Kilimanjaro altitude properly and take it seriously.