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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2013 Jan-Feb;35:28-33. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2012 Dec 30.

Effects of acetazolamide on cognitive performance during high-altitude exposure.

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Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, School of Public Health, Fourth Military Medical University, Xi'an, Shaanxi, China.


High-altitude hypoxia impedes cognitive performance. It is not well known whether the prophylactic use of acetazolamide for altitude sickness can influence cognitive performance at high altitude. When ascending to high altitude locations, one may face medical risks, including cognitive impairment, which may significantly hinder climbing abilities or exploratory behavior. Effective prophylactic drugs have rarely been reported. Because acetazolamide is commonly used to treat acute mountain sickness (AMS), we assessed the potential effects of acetazolamide on cognitive performance during high-altitude exposure. Twenty-one volunteers aged 22-26 years were randomized to receive a 4-day treatment of acetazolamide (125 mg Bid, n=11) or placebo (n=10) before and after air travel from Xianyang (402 m) to Lhasa (3561 m). Neuropsychological performance was assessed using the digit symbol substitution test (DSST), paced auditory serial addition test (PASAT), operation span task, and free recall test at 6, 30, and 54 h after arrival at Lhasa. The Lake Louise Score (LLS) was used to diagnose AMS. At high altitude, acetazolamide impaired rather than improved neuropsychological measures of concentration, cognitive processing speed, reaction time, short-term memory, and working memory, which were assessed by DSST, PASAT, and operation span task at 6 and 30 h after arrival (p<0.05). However, the prophylactic use of acetazolamide was found to reduce the incidence of AMS compared to the placebo (p<0.05). In conclusion, acetazolamide impairs neuropsychological function, at least in part, shortly after the ascent to high altitude.

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