Not only did the ibuprofen work for preventing altitude or mountain sickness, it was as effective as the prescription medications acetazolamide or dexamethasone.
Researchers randomized 86 healthy nonacclimated adult volunteers to receive oral ibuprofen (600 mg) or placebo every 6 hours, beginning 6 hours before rapidly ascending from an altitude of 4100 feet to 12,570 feet in California. Outcome measures were incidence and severity of acute mountain sickness on the validated, self-reported, symptom-based Lake Louise Questionnaire. Acute mountain sickness was defined as a symptom score of >3 with headache and one other symptom.
Significantly fewer volunteers in the ibuprofen group than in the placebo group developed acute mountain sickness (43% vs. 69%; number needed to treat, 3.9). Among volunteers who developed mountain sickness, symptom severity was lower in the ibuprofen group, although the difference was not statistically significant.
Comment: The efficacy of prophylactic ibuprofen is similar to that of traditional altitude sickness prophylaxis with acetazolamide and dexamethasone.
Given the more favorable safety profile of ibuprofen compared with acetazolamide and dexamethasone, ibuprofen seems to be the obvious choice until a head-to-head comparison demonstrates that one is clearly better.
CITATION: Lipman GS et al. Ibuprofen prevents altitude illness: A randomized controlled trial for prevention of altitude illness with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. Ann Emerg Med 2012 Jun; 59:484. [Medline® Abstract] . Copyright © 2012. Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved.