Conquering mountains with a little help from Viagra

Today we celebrate the birthday of Ferid Murad, born on this day in 1936.

So why is the birth of this American-Albanian physician noteworthy? Well, he is the co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, together with Robert Furchgott and Louis Ignarro. Their award-winning research involved studying the effect of nitroglycerin and related nitric oxide-releasing drugs on the body. The release of nitric oxide in the body acts as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system, which causes blood vessels to dilate.

While the above fact may not necessarily cause Joe Average to sit up and take note, what is interesting is that the research of Murad et al was instrumental in the development of the drug Sildenafil citrate, used to treat, among other things, erectile disfunction and pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Yep, Dr Ferid Murad’s research was critical in the development of Viagra.

Now even though the mention of Viagra almost involuntarily calls to mind the sexual application of the drug, this is a family friendly blog, and so I thought it might be prudent to discuss a different, and rather interesting, application of Sildenafil citrate. it has been reported, fairly recently, that Sildenafil can be successfully used in the treatment and prevention of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a condition associated with altitude sickness typically suffered by mountaineers.

Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. 5895 metres above sea level. Guess who took Viagra!?
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Anyone who has ever climbed a mountain of significant height, will be well aware of the dangers of HAPE and altitude sickness. HAPE involves the accumulation of fluid in the lungs, a condition that can occur in otherwise healthy mountaineers, typically at altitudes above 2500 metres. The scary thing is that there is almost no preventative actions that can be taken to avoid altitude sickness striking – it can strike the healthiest, fittest member of a mountaineering team, and mountaineers can scale the same heights countless times without problems, only to become victim to altitude sickness the next time they climb.

As such, having a treatment such as Sildenafil handy as part of your mountaineering first aid kit can be extremely valuable, and even life-saving, if for some reason the normal treatment of HAPE (rapid descent) is not possible.

Scaling high mountains can be a potentially safer experience with Sildenafil citrate on hand to fight altitude sickness.
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So, Viagra can help you scale mountains.  Which I guess makes the fact that tall mountain peaks also happen to have something of a crude Freudian symbolism to them, very apt.

My, who’d have thought?