Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a sudden drop in the air pressure around the body. It can happen when doing things like diving, mountain climbing, or flying in a plane. This causes gas bubbles that can block blood from flowing. It can be deadly if it isn’t treated right away.

AMS is treated with oxygen or spending time in a chamber that controls air pressure around your body. This helps the bubbles go away. Some natural treatments may help stop AMS from occurring in some and ease problems from it in others. Do not use it in place of standard care.

Natural Therapies

May Be Effective

Codonopsis is an herb from a flowering plant that may prevent AMS and ease symptoms, such as breathing and movement problems.A2

May Not Be Effective

Ginkgo biloba is an extract from the leaves of the ginkgo tree that may not prevent AMS.A1, A4, A8, A11, A12

Unlikely to Be Effective

  • Antioxidants are substances that may not protect cells from damage.A10
  • Rhodiola crenulate is widely used to prevent AMS in the Himalayan areas and in Tibet, but studies do not support this.A3

Not Enough Data to Assess

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse, such as:

  • Codonopsis may slow blood clotting and increase bleeding. Talk to your doctor if you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinners.
  • Ginkgo biloba is safe in limited amounts. It may cause skin reactions in some people. Talk to your doctor if you take blood thinners, such as aspirin. It may increase the risk of bleeding.


Herbs and Supplements

A1. Leadbetter, G., Keyes, L., Maakestad, K., Olson, S., Tissot van Patot, M. and Hackett, P. (2009). Ginkgo biloba Does—and Does Not—Prevent Acute Mountain Sickness. Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, 20(1), pp.66-71.

A2. Zhang DX, Zhang YK, Nie HJ, Zhang RJ, Cui JH, Cheng Y, et al. Protective effects of new compound codonopsis tablets against acute mountain sickness. Chin J Appl Physiol. 2010;26(2):148–52. Article in China

A3. Chiu, T., Chen, L., Su, D., Lo, H., Chen, C., Wang, S. and Chen, W. (2013). Rhodiola crenulata extract for prevention of acute mountain sickness: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13(1).

A4. Tsai, T., Wang, S., et al. (2019). Ginkgo biloba extract for prevention of acute mountain sickness: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ Open. 2018 Aug 17;8(8):e022005.

A5. Molano Franco D, Nieto Estrada VH, et al. Interventions for preventing high altitude illness: Part 3. Miscellaneous and non-pharmacological interventions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Apr 23;4:CD013315.

A6. Simancas-Racines D, Arevalo-Rodriguez I, Osorio D, Franco JV, Xu Y, Hidalgo R. Interventions for treating acute high altitude illness. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Jun 30;6:CD009567.

A7. Hennis PJ, Mitchell K, et al. Effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on symptoms of acute mountain sickness and basic physiological responses in a group of male adolescents during ascent to Mount Everest Base Camp. Nitric Oxide. 2016 Nov 30;60:24-31.

A8. Ke T, Wang J, et al. Effect of acetazolamide and gingko biloba on the human pulmonary vascular response to an acute altitude ascent. High Alt Med Biol. 2013 Jun;14(2):162-167.

A9. Talbot NP, Smith TG, et al. Intravenous iron supplementation may protect against acute mountain sickness: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. High Alt Med Biol. 2011 Fall;12(3):265-269.

A10. Baillie JK, Thompson AA, et al. Oral antioxidant supplementation does not prevent acute mountain sickness: double blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial. QJM. 2009 May;102(5):341-348.

A11. Moraga FA, Flores A, et al. Ginkgo biloba decreases acute mountain sickness in people ascending to high altitude at Ollagüe (3696 m) in northern Chile. Wilderness Environ Med. 2007 Winter;18(4):251-7. Erratum in: Wilderness Environ Med. 2008 Spring;19(1):51.

A12. Gertsch JH, Basnyat B, Johnson EW, Onopa J, Holck PS. Randomised, double blind, placebo controlled comparison of ginkgo biloba and acetazolamide for prevention of acute mountain sickness among Himalayan trekkers: the prevention of high altitude illness trial (PHAIT). BMJ. 2004 Apr 3;328(7443):797. Epub 2004 Mar 11.

Last reviewed November 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC
Last Updated: 5/15/2020

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