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Medication Use Among Mount Everest Climbers: Practice and Attitudes

By Andrew M. Luks, Colin Grissom, Luanne Freer and Peter Hackett.

High Altitude Medicine & Biology, Vol 17, 315-322, 2016


The lay public, media, and medical experts have expressed concern about the ethics of climbers using medications to improve performance and increase the odds of summit success while climbing at high altitude, but the true incidence of this practice remains unclear. We conducted an anonymous survey of climbers who have attempted to climb Mt. Everest to gather information about medication use and attitudes toward medication and supplemental oxygen use while climbing the mountain. One hundred eighty-seven individuals completed the survey, providing information about medication and oxygen use for 262 expeditions to Mt. Everest between 1963 and 2015, the majority of which occurred after the year 2000. The majority of respondents were male (82%) and from English-speaking countries (75%). Medications were used on 43% of climbs, with acetazolamide being the most commonly used medication. Reported use of dexamethasone, nifedipine, sildenafil, or tadalafil was uncommon as was use of multiple medications at the same time. The majority of respondents indicated that it was acceptable for climbers to use medications and supplemental oxygen to prevent altitude illness while climbing Mt. Everest. Opinions were more mixed regarding whether summiting without the use of medications or oxygen carried the same value as reaching the summit using those interventions. Our data suggest that less than one-half of Mt. Everest climbers use medications during their expedition, with the primary medication used being acetazolamide, for prevention of altitude illness. Given the limitations of the study design and preliminary nature of these data, further research is warranted to further clarify these issues.

The study may be accessed for charge at Andrew Luks, Medication Use Among Mount Everest Climbers, High Altitude Medicine & Biology, 2016