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Prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled comparison of acetazolamide versus ibuprofen for prophylaxis against high altitude headache: the Headache Evaluation at Altitude Trial (HEAT).

Author(s): Gertsch JH, Lipman GS, Holck PS, Merritt A, Mulcahy A, Fisher RS, Basnyat B, Allison E, Hanzelka K, Hazan A, Meyers Z, Odegaard J, Pook B, Thompson M, Slomovic B, Wahlberg H, Wilshaw V, Weiss EA, Zafren K

Affiliation(s): Department of Neurosciences, University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, San Diego, CA 92103-8465, USA. jgertsch@ucsd.edu

Publication date & source: 2010-09, Wilderness Environ Med., 21(3):236-43. Epub 2010 Jun 16.

Publication type: Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

OBJECTIVE: High altitude headache (HAH) is the most common neurological complaint at altitude and the defining component of acute mountain sickness (AMS). However, there is a paucity of literature concerning its prevention. Toward this end, we initiated a prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial in the Nepal Himalaya designed to compare the effectiveness of ibuprofen and acetazolamide for the prevention of HAH. METHODS: Three hundred forty-three healthy western trekkers were recruited at altitudes of 4280 m and 4358 m and assigned to receive ibuprofen 600 mg, acetazolamide 85 mg, or placebo 3 times daily before continued ascent to 4928 m. Outcome measures included headache incidence and severity, AMS incidence and severity on the Lake Louise AMS Questionnaire (LLQ), and visual analog scale (VAS). RESULTS: Two hundred sixty-five of 343 subjects completed the trial. HAH incidence was similar when treated with acetazolamide (27.1%) or ibuprofen (27.5%; P = .95), and both agents were significantly more effective than placebo (45.3%; P = .01). AMS incidence was similar when treated with acetazolamide (18.8%) or ibuprofen (13.7%; P = .34), and both agents were significantly more effective than placebo (28.6%; P = .03). In fully compliant participants, moderate or severe headache incidence was similar when treated with acetazolamide (3.8%) or ibuprofen (4.7%; P = .79), and both agents were significantly more effective than placebo (13.5%; P = .03). CONCLUSIONS: Ibuprofen and acetazolamide were similarly effective in preventing HAH. Ibuprofen was similar to acetazolamide in preventing symptoms of AMS, an interesting finding that implies a potentially new approach to prevention of cerebral forms of acute altitude illness. Copyright 2010 Wilderness Medical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Page last updated: 2010-10-05

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