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The medications listed here are used for the prevention and/or treatment of high altitude illnesses. The medications are provided by the medical facilities in Antarctica and the Gamow bag is provided by the Berg Field Center (BFC); all are carried by your camp medical provider.

If you have any questions or concerns, discuss all of these medications with your medical provider before you deploy.

Acetazolamide (Diamox)
Dexamethasone (Decadron)
Nifedipine (Procardia and Adalat)
The Gamow Bag

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Acetazolamide (Diamox)

Acetazolamide (Diamox®) is a carbonic anhydrate (CA) inhibitor, slowing the hydration of carbon dioxide. This reduces the re-absorption of bicarbonate and sodium, causing bicarbonate diuresis and metabolic acidosis within hours of ingestion.

Used for prevention and treatment:

  • May help to avoid the development of symptoms.
  • Speeds acclimation processes.
  • Causes you to “pee out” bicarbonates.
  • Helps with Cheyne-Stokes respiration.

Dose

Take 125-250 mg the night before ascent, followed by 125-250 mg twice a day during ascent and for 3 to 4 days after reaching altitude.

Side Effects

  • Numbness/tingling of fingertips and around mouth.
  • Increased urination.
  • Less commonly—nausea, drowsiness, impotence, myopia.
  • Ruins the flavor of carbonated beverages.

Contraindications

Allergic to sulfa drugs.

Consult with your medical provider about possible interactions with any medications you take on a regular basis.

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Dexamethasone (Decadron)

Dexamethasone (Decadron®) is a steroid used for High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

Used for treatment:

  • Effectively reduces edema in the brain.
  • Used in conjunction with the Gamow bag or descent.

Dose

Take 4 mg (tablet or injection) every 6 hours until evacuated to a safe elevation.

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Nifedipine (Procardia and Adalat)

Nifedipine (Procardia® and Adalat®) is a calcium channel blocker used for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).

Used for treatment:

  • Effectively reduces pulmonary vascular resistance and pulmonary artery pressure.
  • Used in conjunction with oxygen and descent.

Dose

Take 10 mg every 4 hours, titrate to response or 10 mg once, then 30 mg sustained release tablet every 12 to 24 hours.

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The Gamow Bag
A Gamow bag at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
A Gamow bag at McMurdo Station, Antarctica

The Gamow bag is a portable hyperbaric chamber.

Used for treatment:

  • Used when the patient is unable to descend or is awaiting transport to a lower altitude.
  • Simulates descent to lower altitudes.
  • By increasing pressure inside the bag, oxygen regains its “pushing power” and pushes into the bloodstream.
 
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Curator: Brigitta James, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Paul Sheppard, Division of Polar Programs