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Eur Respir J. 2000 Jan;15(1):123-7.

Theophylline improves acute mountain sickness.

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  • 1Dept of Medicine, Klinikum Innenstadt, University of Munich, Germany.


A randomized two-part study was conducted in order to determine the efficacy of theophylline in the treatment of acute mountain sickness during fast ascent to altitudes >2,500 m. Fourteen healthy male subjects participated in a randomized single-blind placebo-controlled crossover study carried out in a decompression chamber (simulated altitude 4,500 m). A second randomized single-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted at a high-altitude research laboratory (3,454 m) and included 21 healthy male subjects. The study medication was either 375 mg oral slow-release theophylline (250 mg if <70 kg) or a matched placebo tablet taken twice daily. The acute mountain sickness score (AMSS) was assessed three times a day, beginning 18 h prior to altitude exposure and continuing for 18 h after altitude exposure. In addition, measurements of respiratory frequency, pulse rate, oxygen saturation and arterial blood gas levels were performed. Acute mountain sickness was significantly reduced by theophylline during the decompression chamber study (mean+/-SD 1.2+/-0.9) with placebo versus 3.6+/-0.8 with theophylline; p=0.03). During the high-altitude study, subjects with theophylline showed a significantly lower AMSS on arrival and after 18 h at altitude (0.6 versus 2.3, p=0.03). Oxygenation was improved in both parts of the study. In conclusion, oral slow-release theophylline improves acute mountain sickness.

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