Background: Acetazolamide is the most common medication used for prevention of acute mountain sickness (AMS), usually administered the day or night before ascent. The objective of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of day of ascent dosing of acetazolamide for AMS prevention. Methods: Double-blind, randomized, controlled noninferiority trial of acetazolamide 125 mg twice daily beginning either the night before or the morning of ascent. Healthy low altitude adults ascended from 1240 m (4100 ft) to 3810 m (12,570 ft) during summer 2018 on White Mountain, California. Primary outcome was incidence of AMS with the two different dosing patterns, assessed by the 1993 Lake Louise Questionnaire (LLQ) of ≥3 with headache and a minimum of 1 for other symptom. Results: One hundred four participants completed the study, with 54 (52%) randomized to night before acetazolamide and 50 (48%) to day of ascent dosing, without differences in baseline characteristics. There was 9% greater incidence of AMS in the day of ascent acetazolamide group (48.0% vs. 39%, 95% confidence interval [CI] -11.8 to 30, p = 0.46, number needed to treat [NNT] = 5.6 vs. 3.7), with the CI just surpassing the predetermined 26% noninferiority margin. There was a lower incidence of severe AMS (1993 LLQ >5) in the day of ascent group (n = 5, 10%, NNT = 2.3) compared with night before dosing (n = 12, 22%, NNT = 3.1) (95% CI -28 to 3.6), and lower average symptom severity in the day of ascent group (3 vs. 3.5, 95% CI -0.5 to 1.4). Conclusions: Day of ascent acetazolamide demonstrated higher rates of AMS compared with traditional dosing by a small margin. With similar rates of severe AMS and overall symptom severity, the potential for improved convenience and compliance may support day of ascent use.
Keywords: acetazolamide; acute mountain sickness; disaster; prevention; rapid ascent; search and rescue.