Older age, chronic medical conditions and polypharmacy in Himalayan trekkers in Nepal: An epidemiologic survey and case series

Linda E. Keyes, Luke Mather, Charles Duke, Nirajan Regmi, Benoit Phelan, Sushil Pant, Jennifer Starling, Matthew McElwee, Devlin Cole, Theodore McConnell, Purshotam Paudel, T. Douglas Sallade, Alison Sheets, David Twillman, David S. Young, Buddha Basnyat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: The number of tourists in Nepal doubled between 2003 and 2013 is nearly 800 000. With the increased popularity of trekking, the number of those with pre-existing medical conditions requiring access to healthcare is likely to increase. We therefore sought to characterize the demographics and health status of trekkers on the Everest Base Camp route in the Solukhumbu Valley. In addition, we report cases that illustrate the potential complications of an ageing and medicated population of trekkers with underlying diseases. Methods: Trekkers over 18 years were enrolled in a larger observational cohort study on blood pressure at high altitude at 2860 m. They answered a questionnaire regarding demographics, medical history and current medications. Acute medical problems relating to medication use that were brought to the attention of investigators were documented and are presented as case reports. Results: We enrolled 670 trekkers, 394 (59%) male, with a mean age of 48 years (range 18-76). Pre-existing medical conditions were reported by 223 participants (33%). The most frequent conditions included hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, migraines and thyroid dysfunction. A total of 276 participants (41%) reported taking one or more medications. The most common medications were acetazolamide (79, 12%), antihypertensives (50, 8%) and NSAIDs (47, 7%), with 30 classes of drugs represented. Excluding acetazolamide, older trekkers (age > 50 years) were more likely than younger ones to take medications (OR=2.17; 95% CI 1.57-3.00; P < 0.05). Acetazolamide use was not related to age. Conclusions: Our findings illustrate a wide variety of medical conditions present in trekkers in Nepal with wideranging potential complications that could pose difficulties in areas where medical care is scarce and evacuation difficult. Our cases illustrate the potential problems polypharmacy poses in trekkers, and the need for local and expedition healthcare workers to be aware of, and prepared for the common medical conditions present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbertaw052
JournalJournal of travel medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© International Society of Travel Medicine, 2016. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • Aged
  • Chronic medical conditions
  • High altitude
  • Medication adverse effects
  • Nepal
  • South Asia
  • Travel medicine


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