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Viagra in the mountains?

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Why do we need Viagra in the mountains, or how can medications help in the prevention and treatment of "Acute Mountain Sickness"?

There is a point of view that certain pharmacological drugs can help in case of the mountain sickness, as well as for its prevention. The most famous of them are Hypoxene, Sildenafil (Viagra), Diamox (Diacarb), Mildronate (Meldonium).
Use of medications to prevent altitude sickness

Briefly, the effect of these drugs can be described as follows:

1. Hypoxene provides an increased level of tissue respiration and aerobic processes, reduces the negative effects of hypoxia, improves the ability to physical and mental stress.

Hypoxen - one of the well-known drugs to accelerate acclimatization

Side effect: Allergic reactions, individual intolerance.
There is no information on the side effects of use at the critical altitudes (*).

2. Sildenafil (Viagra). Improves the cardiovascular system and increases the degree of saturation of arterial blood with oxygen.

The drug, popularly known as Viagra, can also help in the mountains
Side effects: headache, dizziness, nasal congestion, visual impairment, increased sensitivity to light, impaired vision.
There is no information on the side effects of use at the critical altitudes.

3. Diamox (Diacarb). Diuretic. Reduces high levels of carbon dioxide and bicarbonates in the blood. Reduces the activity of carbonic anhydrase in the brain, which provides anticonvulsant activity of the drug. Reduces intracranial and intraocular pressure.

Diamox - in general - not a profile drug, but nevertheless, used to relieve symptoms of mountain sickness

Side effects: disorientation, impaired touch, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reactions.
There is no information on the side effects of use at the critical altitudes.

4. Mildronate (Meldonium). For this drug, there is no qualitative evidence of its effectiveness, Meldonium is not included in any recommendations recognized by the international community for the treatment of any disease.

Meldonium - a stimulant, can also be used in the mountains

Meldonium increases working capacity, reduces the symptoms of mental and physical stress, helps to increase endurance, and eliminates withdrawal symptoms in chronic alcoholism.
Side effect: digestive problems, agitation, tachycardia, sometimes critical decrease in blood pressure, skin itching.
There is no information on the side effects of use at the critical altitudes.

Climbing to the altitudes of more than 5000 in the Caucasus - ascent of Mount Kazbek

Before you choose the drug you like from the list above and go on a trip to the mountains, you should deal with some fundamental issues. To begin with, what exactly we will try to “treat” with the help of the above drugs of wide and strong action.

The natural reaction of our body to an external stimulus - altitude, colloquially called "AMS – acute mountain sickness." However, many people do not understand the fact that this phenomenon is not a disease. In a special article in this section, I explain in detail the causes of "acute mountain sickness" and way to prevent it.

Acclimatization - preparation for high-altitude ascents

With regard to the issue of the drug effect on the symptoms of “mountain sickness,” it can be said that this “disease” can be effectively treated only in one way - excluding the reason to which the body has reacted painfully – the altitude. All other methods come down to masking the symptoms and tricking the body, which in turn can lead to unpredictable consequences.

For comparison, you can take drinking an antipyretic for calming down the fever - high temperature. By raising the temperature, our body fights against various processes threatening it - this is a natural reaction, and our desire to forcefully lower the body temperature with the help of the drugs can lead to aggravation of the processes that our body tried to fight.

Preparation for climbing Mount Ushba - acclimatization ascent to the summit of Mount Laila

“Mountain sickness” is the body’s reaction to a sharp decrease in the level of oxygen in the air that we breathe. Our body has all the means to adapt to various environmental conditions, including the lack of oxygen, even at very high altitudes, where the percentage of its content drops to 40% of the norm. As you progress through the acclimatization schedule, metabolism gradually changes, blood circulation accelerates, and the corresponding rhythm of the heartbeat is developed. But all these processes do not happen fast, they require a certain time for initiation, which, in turn, depends on the individual characteristics of the organism, preparation, and high-altitude experience.

Acclimatization climb of Mount Bazarduzu in Dagestan

Without touching on the intricacies of the acclimatization process, I want to say that a number of medical drugs presumably have the ability to accelerate the acclimatization process and reduce the effect of altitude on an unprepared body. The most famous among them are listed above, these are Diamox (Acetazolamide), Hypoxene, Meldonium, Viagra. The mechanism of action of these drugs is quite different, but in general, the effect of their use is expressed in certain physicochemical changes at the cellular level, as a result of which blood circulation improves and stimulates, and oxygen metabolism in tissues improves.

On the summit of Mount Kazbek, 5044 meters above sea level

However, with the contraindications revealed and the side effects of the use of these drugs, no one conducted in-depth studies of the effects of these drugs on the serious altitudes, under critical physical, climatic and psychological stresses. In such a situation, our body works to the limit, and any extraneous push can lead to loss of a balance and unpredictable consequences.

Acclimatization is the key to success in high-altitude mountain climbing

Before looking for a cure for “mountain sickness,” answer to the question - what tasks do you pursue in the mountains, trying to solve the problem of altitude with medications? How critical is it for you to continue to climb, despite the obvious signs of insufficient acclimatization? Of course, in a situation where a person’s life depends on the use of chemicals, in case of need to keep working by any means for a short time (for example, in the conditions of some military or rescue operations, etc.), regardless of further health consequences. But it is like an amphetamine ampoule in the pocket of a suicide bomber...

Bezengi giants - Dykh Tau and Koshtan - the highest peaks of the Caucasus

But if you just relax in the mountains? If for you the mountaineering is a form of active leisure, a source of positive and vivid impressions? Is it worth it to risk your health and ignore the obvious signals that your body gives to you? Moreover, the signals are quite obvious - an immediate descent and restoration is necessary. Is it worth to rely on the drugs of broad and powerful action?

Mount Ushba - one of the most difficult peaks of the Caucasus

Many generations of climbers who have done the most serious ascents at high altitudes give us a good example of the fact that the best “cure” for “mountain sickness” is proper acclimatization, and the best prevention is adequate motivation, clear mind and common sense. A gradual altitude gain, regular descents from the altitude camps for a good rest - all this allows us to prepare smoothly letting to our body good time for acclimatization and normal functioning at sufficiently high altitudes.

View to the main Caucasian Range from the height of the summit of Mount Kazbek

In 2002, the author of this article was preparing an international climbing expedition to Mount Ushba - it was a memorial climb dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the famous Georgian mountaineer Mikhail Khergiani. Since this expedition was given very close attention at a high level, the event was broadcast on TV channels in Russia and Georgia, it was necessary to do everything to minimize a chance of possible failure. At the preparation stage, I received an offer from the representative of a pharmacological company to test some drug to accelerate acclimatization of the climb participants.

Behind the back - the repeatedly conquered double peaks of Mount Ushba

Experienced climbers, members of the expedition, who had the experience of numerous ascents to Everest and other highest peaks, unanimously opposed the use of any chemicals that violate the natural way of the acclimatization process. As the youngest participant in the expedition, I accepted the point of view of older and more experienced comrades and abandoned the idea of using any chemicals during acclimatization and the main ascent.

The author of the text on the summit of Mount Ushba

I have not changed this point of view so far - the best doctor is our own body. And many problems, including in the mountains, happen because we interfere in the complex natural processes of its functioning.

* critical altitudes - above sea level from 3000m to 6000m, the level at which the human body can function only under the condition of full acclimatization and special training.

The author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev


Our Principles

AlexClimb Rule #1 - Safety First

From the very beginning of our activity, here nearly 16 years, the first Principle of work of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb is the Safety Priority. On the basis of this Principle all process of training is based, all programs and rounds are developed and carried out only within this main principle. We consider that at professional approach to development of programs, at personal discipline and correctly put motivation - occupations by mountaineering and rock-climbing are COMPLETELY safe. And from the return - all troubles and accidents in our sport come from nonprofessionalism, from ignorance or neglect by elementary standards of safety, from irrational motivation, from revaluation of own forces and opportunities. All these prerequisites we COMPLETELY EXCLUDE in our work - ours Rock-climbing, Ice climbing and Mountaineering are based on one Principle - the Safety Priority. In rock-climbing, mountaineering and ice climbing, the Priority of Safety of MCS AlexClimb-is your personal security and comfort irrespective of, than we are engaged - we train muscles and we work technology of the movement in the sports hall and on the rock climbing wall, we make the way through snowstorm to top or we relax on golden sand of the Caribbean beach after hot day of trainings on rocks. The Safety priority - the main credo of School of mountaineering and rock-climbing of MCS AlexClimb.

AlexClimb Rule #2 - Leave No Trace

Closely interacting with Nature, working with the active programs in mountains, woods, lakes and rivers, we perfectly understand the importance of carefull and respectfull bahavior towards the Nature, for its resources. From the very beginning of our outdoor-activity we adopted rules of  Leave No Trace technique - the standard of behavior of the person accepted in all the civilized world in relation to environment and especially - to the wild nature. After all on the relation of people to the nature near which they exist, itself can draw dalekoidushchy conclusions on the relation of these people to... Where and as we didn't travel - we don't reserve any garbage, we try to reduce whenever possible our influence on environment to a minimum. We clear earlier zagryazyonny tourist parking of the left garbage, we take out and we take out to utilization places that to us other people left there. We consider that only thus, at personal individual consciousness of each citizen, each tourist, climber or autotraveller, we will be able to keep the nature surrounding us in its state, natural, suitable for life, - in it pledge of the healthy future for ourselves and our children.

AlexClimb Rule #3 - Sober Concious

The position of AlexClimb Mountain and rockclimbing School regarding healthy lifestyle is quite clear - we consider that only sober consciousness is capable to fill sincere emotions,  to sympathize, to enjoy life in all its variety. Bright various enjoyable life is possible only on condition of keeping the absolute sobriety and purity of consciousness. Any way of obscuring our perception of reality is intended to do harm to our consciousness and bring harm to our physical health, to replace the true values by false ones, to destroy us physically - to turn us into flabby, weak, senseless, gray herd with empty hazy eyes. We don't force anybody to our point of view, everyone has a God's gift of making his own choice and to destroy himself if that is what he wants... But in AlexCilimb Mountain Climbing School we accept quite certain and very simple set of rules: neither alcohol, nor drugs.