Friday, March 15, 2013

No mountain climbing for now

The performance-enhancing potential of steroids in many sports is well known, but not so much mountaineering. The use of dexamethasone has apparently become rampant, however, corrupting the climbing game and putting at risk the lives of those who compensate pharmaceutically for what they lack in skill and training. What was once reserved as a way to treat severe mountain sickness has mushroomed into the drug of choice for climbers who want to make sure they peak out on extreme alpine ascents, reports Outside magazine. Dex has left in its wake a trail of neurological wreckage that disturbs but doesn’t surprise me.

It was a course of dexamethasone at sea level that snapped me out of my adrenal crisis a few weeks ago, so I have no complaint about the proper use of the drug. I know something about its magical power to resuscitate and stimulate. It brought me back from the dead. A month ago I powered down to 20-mg doses of prednisone and this week to 15 mg. Like many who take corticosteroids for chronic medical conditions, I’m tweaking my dosage to find what minimizes my exposure to their side-effects while managing the symptoms of my Addison’s disease. It appears it will be a trickier process than I expected.

The prednisone I take replaces the cortisol, the body’s “stress hormone,” that my adrenal glands no longer produce. I’ve learned the last few days that moving too quickly to a lower dose can induce the symptoms I previously experienced during my adrenal crisis, including muscle pain, sleeplessness (I was up at 4:30 this morning), fatigue and loss of appetite. I’m hoping I’ll perk back up with the slight adjustment I made in my dosage starting yesterday. I plan to finish a St. Patrick’s Day 5K on Sunday but to my great disappointment, I’ll likely be a walker and not a runner. I just don’t have the juice right now to move very quickly.

Fortunately, there appears to be no reason why I can’t resume my exercise regime now that I better understand how to manage my prednisone. Daily doses can be safely increased for a short time when I know my body is going to be stressed. Most people establish by trial and error when they need to top-up their meds. My aim will be to keep any extra dosage to a minimum while gradually building up fitness again. Running is great weight-bearing exercise, which compensates for the osteoporosis that steroids can cause. I’ll take a pass for now on the mountain climbing.

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