Objective Acute mountain sickness (AMS) characterized by presence of symptoms including headache, nausea, excessive fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability and insomnia is a major impediment to work performance in human subjects who are rapidly inducted to high altitude (HA) during the initial phase of induction. The present study aims at to evaluate the efficacy of prophylactic administration of low dose glucocorticoids in prevention of AMS in normal healthy men who are inducted to HA by air.
Design Fifty healthy men were randomly divided into five groups of 10 each. Group I received prednisolone (Pred) 10 mg, Group II Pred 20 mg, Group III Pred 40 mg, Group IV dexamethasone 0·5 mg, Group V received placebo once a day in the morning for 2 days at sea level (SL) and for 3 days on arrival at an altitude of 3450 m by air.
Measurements The severity of AMS was assessed using Lake Louise AMS scoring system. Physiological parameters like blood pressure, respiratory rate, peripheral blood O2 saturation and heart rate were measured at sea level and on arrival at HA. Circulatory levels of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) were measured by radioimmunoassay (RIA) and immunoradiometreic assay (IRMA), respectively.
Results In the placebo group, significant AMS could be detected at 12 h of arrival at HA, peaked by day 1 or 2 of stay and started declining thereafter. As compared to the placebo group, the steroid treated groups showed a significant (P < 0·01) reduction in daily AMS score. When compared with prednisolone 10 mg, 40 mg and dexamethasone groups, the prednisolone 20 mg group showed an optimal response in reduction of AMS symptoms. The O2 saturation showed a significant decline (P < 0·001) on arrival at HA, but the pattern of O2 saturation in placebo and glucocorticoid groups was identical. Similarly, the rise in heart rate and blood pressure and on day 3 of stay at HA was similar in placebo and glucocorticoid-treated groups. An increase in plasma cortisol in placebo group was observed on day 3 of stay at HA and continued to rise till day 8 of observations. The cortisol levels in Pred 10 mg and Pred 20 mg groups on day 1 and 3 of arrival at HA were not significantly different than the SL post-treatment values but were found to be significantly higher on day 8 of stay. Plasma cortisol in Pred 40 mg and dexamethasone groups was significantly lower (P < 0·01) on day 1 and 3 of stay but showed an increase by day 8 of stay. The ACTH levels were increased at HA in placebo group but did not show any significant change till day 3 of stay in steroid treated subjects and were found to be higher in all groups on day 8 of observations.
Conclusion These observations suggest that administration of low-dose glucocorticoids can curtail acute mountain sickness significantly without influencing the normal adreno cortical response to hypoxia.
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