Using Diamox on Kilimanjaro - Yay of Nay?
using-diamox-on-kilimanjaro

Using Diamox on Kilimanjaro – Yay or Nay?

Acetazolamide, or what is commonly sold under the trade name Diamox, is a drug that is used for various medical treatments – including glaucoma, sleep apnea, epilepsy and hypertension. It is also used to help mitigate the effects of altitude sickness.

Using Diamox on Kilimanjaro is a question you are going to face when you start your preparations to reach the Roof of Africa.

In this article we briefly describe what Diamox is, what it does that helps with altitude sickness and whether it is worth using Diamox on Kilimanjaro.

Using Diamox on Kilimanjaro

What is Diamox?

Diamox (aka Acetazolamide), as it is used for Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a diuretic (i.e. it promotes the production of urine) and a prophylactic (i.e. is used as a preventative medicine – not a cure).

It is also a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor (ahem, what?). Essentially this means that it promotes the excretion, via urine, of bicarbonate – which is why it is useful for altitude sickness

Diamox and altitude sickness

The excretion of bicarbonate increases the acidity of the blood, as bicarbonate is a conjugate base of carbonic acid. Increased acidity in the blood is equated by our bodies as increased CO2. The body responds to the imaginary excess CO2 by breathing deeper and faster to get rid of the CO2. Deeper, faster breathing increases the amount of oxygen received by the blood. This helps with the acclimatisation process and helps prevent the onset of AMS symptoms.

It is important to note that using Diamox on Kilimanjaro does not cure the symptoms of AMS, it merely helps prevent the onset of symptoms. Once AMS symptoms have started, the only way to stop them is descent. Therefore, under no circumstances should Diamox be used to continue an ascent with AMS.

So is it worth using Diamox on Kilimanjaro?

In short, yes. Anything that is going to help you reach the summit safely should be considered a worthy investment.

Obviously you should first consult your doctor to check whether Diamox is a suitable drug given your particular medical history. It is not suitable for pregnant women or anyone with kidney or liver disease issues (obviously these people shouldn’t be climbing Kilimanjaro in the first place)

We recommend taking Diamox for 2-3 days 2 weeks before departure to test whether you experience any side effects.

Typical side effects associated with Diamox are:

  • Frequent urination – everyone experiences this when taking Diamox. It can result in the development of kidney stones so it is important that you drink loads of fluids whilst taking the medication.
  • Numbness and tingling in the fingers, toes and face – Many people experience this side effect when taking Diamox. The sensation is a little discomforting but not dangerous
  • Taste alterations (some foods might taste weird)
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea – this is rare. These side effects should be identified during your test before departing for Kilimanjaro. Unfortunately these side effects are common with AMS and therefore can easily be misdiagnosed as AMS
  • Drowsiness and confusion is also possible – again these side effects can be confused with AMS

Typically Diamox comes in 250mg tablets. Most people take half a tablet in the morning and half in the evening. You should start taking tablets one day before arriving in Kilimanjaro and continue taking the same dosage for all ascent days. You can cease taking Diamox on descent.

We hope this article has given you everything you need to know in terms of using Diamox on Kilimanjaro. Any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, we will respond within 24 hours (so check back)

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Recommended Gear for your Kili Adventure

kilimanjaro-sleeping-bagsThe temperatures on Mount Kilimanjaro can plummet at night. From day two the evenings will be cold and the nights can be freezing. It is paramount you have an extreme weather sleeping bag to keep you warm and comfortable. Key characteristics you should look for: 1. Mummy shape to fit the contours of your body, 2. Insulated hood with draw cord, 3. Lightweight, 4. Warm (be able to withstand temperatures below -5 degrees C or 23 degrees F). Read more about suitable Kilimanjaro sleeping bags here.

About the Author Mark Whitman

Hi, I’m Mark! Welcome to Climb Kilimanjaro Guide – the Web’s No.1 Trekking Guide to Mount Kilimanjaro. This site is your one stop shop for everything Kilimanjaro. To date over 2 million people have visited ClimbKilimanjaroGuide.com, many of which have gone on to summit Kili! I hope you find all the answers you are looking for, but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to drop a comment below! Happy Trekking!

Leave a Comment:

7 comments
Marie Chichester says April 23, 2015

Thank you for “all” your helpful tips. I can’t wait to hike Mt. K and I feel more prepared after reading your 10 helpful tips and the article about Diamox.

Keep on Trekking!!!!

Marie

Reply
    Mark Whitman says April 27, 2015

    Always a pleasure to help Marie!

    Reply
Julie Forshaw says August 28, 2015

HI, thank you so much for all your helpful tips. They are so important. I am really looking forward to climbing MR K. in March 2016.

Reply
aqil chaudhry says November 3, 2015

what proportion of people use Diamox on Kilimanjaro?
i would have thought that most would not take Diamox for ethical reasons.

Reply
    Mark Whitman says November 4, 2015

    Not quite sure what the ethical argument would be against using Diamox on Kilimanjaro? It is very difficualt to estimate how many people use Diamox but if I were to hazard a guess I would say 20% of trekkers (1 in 5 people), excluding support crew who by and large would not use diamox. This is a total guestimate though.

    Reply
      Molly says February 8, 2016

      I recently went up Kili (Jan 2016) and I highly recommend taking diamox prophylactically when/if you decide to go. Furthermore, if you are built on the muscular side or could lose a few pounds (you know who you are!), or weigh over 175 or so, I would consider taking 250 m twice a day, instead of 125 m. I started at 125, twice a day and did not do well. By day 4, I increased to 250 twice a day and felt much better.

      Reply
        Mark Whitman says February 13, 2016

        Thanks Molly!

        Reply
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