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Viagra May Help Severe Altitude Sickness

Better Results Than a Placebo in High-Altitude Test
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High-Altitude Tests continued...

The study started at sea level, where the men had baseline measurements taken. Then they left their normal lives behind for the mountains.

First stop: Chamonix. The French mountain town is located about 0.6 miles (1,035 meters) above sea level in the Alps, near the Swiss border. The men spent a day there to start adjusting to altitude. The next day, they strapped into a helicopter and soared almost 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) higher to Observatoire Vallot, located just below the summit of Mont Blanc, the highest point in Western Europe.

For five days, they stayed in the mountain observatory. Afterwards, they came back down the mountain for follow-up tests.

While on the mountain, the men filled out surveys checking for signs of acute mountain sickness three times a day. Their breathing was also monitored at rest. In addition, they rode stationary bikes until they couldn't pedal any more, exercising until exhaustion on their second and fifth days on the mountain.

Half of the men received Viagra. The rest were given a placebo. The Viagra group took 40 milligrams of the drug three times a day, starting on their first day on the mountain.

At first, both groups struggled to adjust. "Subjects suffered from acute mountain sickness until day four," say the researchers.

High altitudes caused a host of problems. Their blood pressure rose 29% higher than at sea level. Dizziness and stomach problems were similar in both groups.

After one or two days, the Viagra group's blood pressure started to normalize. By the sixth day, it was 6% lower than before the experiment. But for the placebo group, it remained high, leveling off about 21% higher than normal.

As expected, high altitude made breathing rougher for all of the men. But the Viagra group had less of a setback at rest and during exercise than the placebo group. Side effects were minor, such as muscle pain, say the researchers.

More studies should be done to see if Viagra can replace the current treatment (calcium-channel blockers or steroids) to treat HAPE, say Richalet and colleagues.

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