What is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is defined by symptoms like headache, fatigue, lightheadedness, lack of appitite, nausea, restless sleep with frequent awakening, and mild shortness of breath with exertion that you may experience when you arrive at or climb to high elevations. The symptoms are caused by your body’s attempt to acclimatize to the thinner air (less oxygen per breath).  Generally, symptoms do not begin until you reach 2000 meters/6500 feet  which is exactly the elevation of Colorado Springs. 25% of people who sleep at 2000 – 3000 meters will experience AMS.

Will I get it when I go up to Pikes Peak?

Literature reviews say that your chances of getting Acute Mountain Sickness from a drive or ride on the Cog Railway trip to the top of Pikes Peak are minimal, but again if you are sleeping at elevation in Colorado Springs you are at risk.

Is there a test to see if I have Acute Mountain Sickness?

AMS is diagnosed by symptoms and not testing. The diagnosis may be suspected if a newly arrived visitor’s headache responds to 2-4 liters/minute of oxygen after 15-30 minutes

How quickly after arriving in Colorado Springs could I experience AMS?  

Symptoms can begin as soon as a couple hours after arriving but generally are seen in the first 6-12 hours, making your first night sleep the worst.

If I get AMS on arrival to Colorado Springs, can I still go up to the top of Pikes Peak?

Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness will worsen as you ascend, so it’s best to wait until your headache and other symptoms are decreasing before attempting the trip to over 14,000 feet/4300 meters. Most people’s AMS symptoms resolve after 24-48 hours.

If I get Acute Mountain Sickness, how should I treat it?  

You can start with ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen for your headache as well as hydrating yourself with non-alcoholic beverages. Antinausea medications and intravenous fluids (IV) are sometimes necessary for the hardest hit individuals. If your symptoms don’t improve quickly, give us a call at (719) 522-2727 or stop by our clinic – hours, map & contact form are HERE.

Who is more susceptible to AMS?

Unfortunately there are not reliable genetic or physiologic markers to predict who will suffer from AMS. Some reported risk factors include – rapid ascent to elevation, vigorous exercise prior to acclimatization, those with prior AMS, people with heart or lung disease, and those with substance abuse problems.

How can I prevent it?

Since most visitors to the Pikes Peak area fly or drive in, the simplest method to prevent AMS, slow ascent to elevation, is not practical. You can reduce your chances upon arrival by avoiding alcohol or other sedatives, doing mild to moderate exercise, and maintaining excellent hydration. There is no evidence to support special diets, such as those high in carbohydrates, as a viable preventive measure.

There are a number of medications that can be used to prevent AMS or decrease its symptoms such as Acetazolamide and Dexamethasone, but are typical reserved for people rapidly going to and sleep at elevation higher than 3000 meters/9800 feet.

 

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