Viagra works by expanding blood vessels in the penile organ, allowing more blood to inflow. The drug does this by inhibiting an enzyme that is responsible for suppressing relaxation processes. Interestingly, the drug may provide useful effect not only in the penis, but in the lungs which also contain the abovementioned enzyme. Due to this, Viagra is sometimes used to fight mountain (altitude) sickness.
What is Altitude Disease?
Altitude sickness (may be also called altitude hypoxia) is a non-pleasant condition linked to oxygen deficiency due to a serious decrease in the content of oxygen (O) in the inhaled air, which may develop when climbing mountains, as well as when flying on aircraft which has no airtight cabin (this also concerns hang gliding, paragliding, balloon flights), starting with about 2000 km and higher.
A variation of altitude sickness is mountain sickness, in the development of which, along with the deficit of oxygen, such extra factors as severe physical exhaustion, cooling, dehydration of the organism, exposure to UV radiation, unfriendly weather conditions (hurricane winds, etc.), sharp temperature drops during the day (from +30 ° C in the daytime to —20 ° C at night), etc. matter. But the cornerstone of this sickness is hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply.
Here are some drugs that help relieve the symptoms of mountain sickness:
- Acetazolamide (Diamox, Cetamoks, Acemit) reduces intracranial pressure and allows for alleviating the symptoms that occur during mountain sickness,
- Dexamethasone reduces the severity of acute mountain sickness which occurs when climbers ascend sharply to heights above 4000 m.
- Bendazol is a vasodilator with adaptogenic properties (half of a 10 mg tablet), however, this drug is available only in some European countries.
Viagra for Mountain Sickness
The administration of the President of South Korea has confirmed the purchase of 360 Viagra tablets for government needs in December 2015. It clarifies that the tablets should have been sent to President Park Geun-hye’s assistants, as well as to other officials for treating mountain sickness during the May trips to Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya — the capitals of these states are located at the height of 1-2 kilometers above sea level.
The fact is that Korean doctors really believe that Viagra is capable of treating mountain sickness, and their opinion is not unreasonable.
According to posts on Livejournal (Russian-speaking forum), all guides in Chamonix (French Alps) carry around Viagra, as it improves peripheral blood circulation (not only in the penis but also in the lungs) to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.
What Do Scientists Say?
Andrew R. Hsu, Kimberly E. Barnholt, Nicolas K. Grundmann (Stanford University School of Medicine, 2006) reported that sildenafil improved sports performance when exercising at high altitudes.
Participants in that study (trained cyclists) had to cover the 6-kilometer distance, breathing in rarefied oxygen. The volunteers were under the conditions corresponding to 3,900 m above sea level.
At the end of the tests, it turned out that four out of ten participants who took Viagra improved their own results by more than a third, having covered the distance much faster than usual.
Taking this drug did not affect the results of the ride at sea level. In addition, none of the participants complained about the appearance of an erection.
However, according to Bates MG, Thompson AA, Baillie JK et al. at Newcastle University (2011), obtained data didn’t support routine prophylactic administration of Viagra to reduce PASP at high altitude in healthy persons with no history of high altitude pulmonary edema.
Should You Use Viagra for Mountain Sickness?
In this case, it is better to consult a doctor, especially if you are a newcomer to mountain hiking or mountaineering. It must be borne in mind that there is still no sufficient scientific justification of this.
So far, the drug has no official indications such as “symptoms of altitude sickness.” But who knows, perhaps in the future, low doses of Viagra will be approved for preventing or treating altitude sickness.
What about Cialis?
Cialis is probably the most known competitor of Viagra. It contains tadalafil, an active component, which belongs to the same pharmaceutical group as Viagra. Therefore, it should have similar properties in terms of treating diseases. Surely, Cialis is effective for ED. Regarding mountain (altitude) sickness, theoretically, it may also be helpful. The evidence data is somewhat similar to that of Viagra. For instance, Maggiorini M, Brunner-La Rocca HP, Peth S et al. (Université de Bruxelles, 2006) concluded that both Cialis and dexamethasone, a type of corticosteroid medication, might decrease the incidence of high-altitude pulmonary edema.
However, like in the case of Viagra, there is no sufficient adequate scientific evidence in this case. Therefore, do not self-medicate, take Viagra and Cialis for its intended purpose – for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (if you suffer from this problem).
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