Lundeberg, Jenny, John R. Feiner, Andrew Schober, Jeffrey W. Sall, Helge Eilers, and Philip E. Bickler. Increased cytokines at high altitude: lack of effect of ibuprofen on acute mountain sickness, physiological variables or cytokine levels. High Alt Med Biol. 19:249-258, 2018.
Introduction: There is no consensus on the role of inflammation in high-altitude acclimatization.
Aims: To determine the effects of a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (ibuprofen 400 mg every 8 hours) on blood cytokines, acclimatization, acute mountain sickness (AMS, Lake Louise Score), and noninvasive oxygenation in brain and muscle in healthy volunteers.
Materials and methods: In this double-blind study, 20 volunteers were randomized to receive ibuprofen or placebo at sea level and for 48 hours at 3800 m altitude. Arterial, brain, and leg muscle saturation with near infrared spectroscopy, pulse oximetry, and heart rate were measured. Blood samples were collected for cytokine levels and cytokine gene expression.
Results: All of the placebo subjects and 8 of 11 ibuprofen subjects developed AMS at altitude (p = 0.22, comparing placebo and ibuprofen). On arrival at altitude, the oxygen saturation as measured by pulse oximetry (SpO2) was 84.5% ± 5.4% (mean ± standard deviation). Increase in blood interleukin-1β (IL-1β), interleukin-6 (IL-6), interleukin-8 (IL-8), interleukin-10 (IL-10), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) levels occurred comparably in the placebo and ibuprofen groups (all not significant, univariate test by Wilcoxon rank sum). Increased IL-6 was associated with higher AMS scores (p = 0.002 by Spearman rank correlation). However, we found no difference or association in AMS score and blood or tissue oxygenation between the ibuprofen and placebo groups.
Conclusions: We found that ibuprofen, at the package-recommended adult dose, did not have a significant effect on altitude-related increases in cytokines, AMS scores, blood, or tissue oxygenation in a population of healthy subjects with a high incidence of AMS.
Keywords: acclimatization; acute mountain sickness; altitude; altitude sickness; anti-inflammatory agents nonsteroidal; cytokines.