Previous studies have shown low-dose acetazolamide to be effective in preventing AMS in persons already at high altitude and then moving higher, a relatively low risk situation. We wished to evaluate prophylactic administration of low-dose acetazolamide for reducing the incidence and severity of AMS in a high-risk setting: rapid ascent from 1600 to 4300 m. We performed a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study with human subjects (n=44) exposed to 4300 m for 24 h. Subjects were treated for 3 days prior to ascent to 4300 m and during day 1 at altitude with placebo (n=22) or acetazolamide 250 mg/day (125 mg bid, n=22). AMS diagnosis required both an AMS-C score from the Environmental Symptom Questionnaire-III>or=0.7 and a Lake Louise Symptom (LLS) questionnaire score>or=3 plus headache. Acetazolamide reduced the incidence of AMS compared to placebo-treated subjects (14% vs. 45%, respectively, p=0.02), and the number needed to treat was 3. The AMS-C and LLS scores were lower in acetazolamide-treated subjects, indicating less severe AMS. Low-dose acetazolamide administered prior to ascent and on day 1 at 4300 m effectively reduced the incidence and severity of AMS in a high-risk setting.