Whilst I’m doing some cycling to help get fit I’m clearly no Lance Armstrong. However the topic of performance enhancing drugs in cycling and Mr Armstrong is big news at present and it has got me thinking.
Acetazolamide (brand name Diamox) is a drug that can help altitude acclimatisation and so help reduce the severity of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which all Kilimanjaro climbers will be affected by to some degree. It works by altering the kidney’s ability to reabsorb Bicarbonate and so increases the acidity in the blood. This re-acified blood chemistry acts a respiratory stimulant that can help the body accelerate acclimation.
It’s not a magic bullet though; there are no medicinal cures or prevention for AMS. Common side effects of Diamox include numbness, tingling, or vibrating sensations in hands, feet, and lips. Also, taste alterations, and ringing in the ears. It also acts as a diuretic so you’ll be urinating more and need to keep your fluid intake up (dehydration is a big problem at altitude and will contribute to AMS).
I’ve read accounts of very fit people failing to make it to top due to AMS. It is a serious set of conditions and if not acted upon can become life threatening in severe cases. There seems to be a range of view high altitude trekking / mountaineering world about taking Diamox.
- Don’t use it as it’s all about man vs. the mountain naturally
- Use it only if you have significant AMS symptoms
- Use it prophylactically to help your acclimatisation and reduce the change / severity of any AMS systems
My current mind set is focused on making the summit and meeting the commitments I’ve made to the task, my sponsors and myself that I don’t have a moral objection to using Diamox. In fact one of the biggest concerns (and so motivators) is not making it and letting people down. I’m open to using all the resources and techniques I can to help me achieve my goal. I’m even considering taking it as soon as I begin the climb – I might as well get all the help I can.
I don’t know if my GP will prescribe it though and even then it’s unlikely to be on a NHS prescription. This is probably something to broach when I book in for some pre-Tanzania inoculations. With so much counterfeit medication in the world I figure it’s better to try and source Diamox in the UK where I can be confident in its credentials and authenticity.
Guess I’m a pill popper looking for dealer then…