All You Need To Know About Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Neglecting AMS symptoms can kill you

All You Need To Know About Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
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The love for the Himalayas is one of the common things that mountain lovers reap. However, if you have just begun to plan a trip or trek in high altitude areas you need to know about Acute Mountain Sickness, abbreviated as AMS. This is also commonly known as Altitude Sickness. AMS can prove to be life-threatening if you have not taken precautions or neglected the symptoms. Knowing a few details would be great!

What Is AMS?

Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS are the symptoms that many travellers experience while gaining altitude. Reasons that kick in AMS are believed to be lower air pressure and low level of oxygen. The symptoms can start showing at 5000 metres in mild capacity and can go worse at 8000 metres and beyond. AMS can hit any traveller of any sex, age, and fitness level. AMS symptoms are not very hazardous but if you ignore them it can lead to two conditions – High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High-Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE). In both cases, there are life risks concerned. However, if AMS is detected early and the symptoms are attended to, the traveller can enjoy the trek sans the physical problems.

Symptoms Of AMS

Some of the symptoms of AMS are quite common that can happen to us in our daily life. This is one reason, why inexperienced people find it difficult to spot AMS at the right time. AMS symptoms can range from mild to severe. Here is a list of symptoms that you should not ignore when you are gaining altitude:


  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach illness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pins and needles
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Sleep disturbance


  • Severe headaches that are not relieved by medication
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increasing weakness and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased coordination (ataxia)


  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Inability to walk
  • Decreasing mental status
  • Build-up of fluid in the lungs (Difficult to detect without expert medical help)

If the symptoms are not detected early or are avoided, complications like slipping into coma, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), and swelling of the brain might arise.

How To Know If It Is AMS Or Not

However, as you might see most of these symptoms can happen to anyone on a normal day under normal circumstances too. To understand if the symptoms are related to AMS or not take the tripe-one test. Take 1 Dispirin + 1 litre water and wait for 1 hour. If the symptoms vanish after one hour it is dehydration and not AMS.

How To Prevent And Treat The Symptoms Of AMS

A word of caution by the Indian Army at the world’s highest motorable road – Khardung La
A word of caution by the Indian Army at the world’s highest motorable road – Khardung La

Image Credit: Tania Sarkar

To keep AMS symptoms at bay follow these:

  • Increase physical activities at least a month ahead of a trip or trek. Jog for at least 45 minutes every day. You could also go cycling or swimming.
  • Acclimatize as you climb up.
  • Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and smoking.
  • Do not overexert your body and go at a slower pace at high altitude.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Eat well; you will need that energy.
  • Chew on garlic and cloves occasionally. Garlic thins the blood helping in regulating high blood pressure, and cloves make the body more oxygen efficient.
  • Pop a pill. Diamox is a medicine for bringing down AMS symptoms

Be as wise as Solomon and descend if your moderate symptoms do not subside with the following remedies. There are high chances of you to start feeling better once you lose altitude unless your symptoms are severe. Do not keep going ignoring the symptoms.