Diamox and acclimatisation


People worry about acclimatisation, given the relatively short time of the trips and the altitude we’re riding at. We’ve tried not to make our itineraries too tight, so they should allow everyone to acclimatise as we ride – but we all respond differently to these unknown conditions.

Diamox (Acetazolamide) is increasingly being used by travellers to high altitude destinations. It’s a well established drug that’s commonly used to treat glaucoma and other medical conditions. It acts to reduce the amount of bicarbonate that the body produces and also causes some water to be lost. It’s a weak diuretic and it alters the balance of chemicals in the blood. These changes stimulate the respiratory system to breathe more rapidly and therefore get more oxygen into the bloodstream. As such, it has been shown to have a positive impact in acclimatization for some people.

We learn things every year from running these tours, and last year a few riders found it to be a real benefit, while others didn’t get on so well with taking it. But it’s certainly worth thinking about, and discussing Diamox with your physician.


3 Responses to “Diamox and acclimatisation”

  1. 1 Simon May 17, 2007 at 4:45 am

    I think that it important to stress that it has little to do with your physical preparation and level of fitness. You are either genetically predisposed to operating better at altitude or not. You can get race whippits who struggle above 3000m and bloaters (like me) who seem to do OK. I guess the only thing you can say with certainty is that you won’t know until you try it…but if you don’t anticipate it, diamox isn’t much use (I think that you need a couple of days before its effects kick in).

    Neither Sarah or I used it (although we did take Gingko in advance). In Pakistan Sarah really struggled over 4500m, but in India had no real issues. As you say, there is no substitute for good acclimatisation, but even then, that may not be enough for some.

  2. 2 Cara May 17, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Thanks for your input on Diamox, Simon. It’s true you need to take it in advance, but latest medical news recommends 2 days to 24 hours before ascending over 3000metres.

    Also very true, it totally depends on the person – how you react to altitude and also how well you get on with Diamox. Cass and I haven’t tried Diamox ourselves, but this year I plan to as a self-test.

    Like you say, even if you’ve been at altitude in other places, you should assume each new place is different – your body may or may not react the same. And it doesn’t depend on fitness!

  3. 3 Dave June 4, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Cass,

    I took only 2 tablets of Diamox last year on Menali- Leh, just to help with sleeping at our highest camps. I certainly did get more sleep but the intense tingling in the arms and fingers made the experience rather unpleasant.

    I would advise carrying some, ‘just in case.’


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