South Korean Controversy

Recent headlines have condemned Korean President Park Geun-hye for purchasing viagra for members of her staff to allegedly help with altitude sickness. When I first heard this it had to be the strangest thing I had ever heard of a politician doing. Until today this has bemused me. I wondered if Viagra could really help.


To try and debunk the Korean president, I found two studies that tested Sildenafil as a possible preventative medication for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema or HAPE for short. HAPE is the accumulation of liquid in lungs in high altitudes. The first study, published by Pacific University Oregon, was a meta-analysis of five separate studies testing the effects of sildenafil on athletic performance at high altitudes. The hypothesis being that it would help, and the null hypothesis being that Sildenafil made no difference to the performance in the activities.  The studies found that Sildenafil helped the participants in numerous ways, including: maintaining oxygen levels in blood, decreasing blood pressure in the heart and pulmonary artery, as well as increased cardiac output.


The first experiment was helpful, in that it proved the uses of Sildenafil in places of high altitude, but fell short of explaining President Park’s situation due to its focus on athletic performance rather than general wellbeing. The second study, published by the American Thoracic Society, used a double-blind placebo trial in which 12 participants were taken to different altitudes starting at sea level and slowly rising until a top altitude of 4350 meters was reached. The participants were either given Sildenafil or a placebo pill. The hypothesis of this study was that Sildenafil would reduce or prevent the effects of altitude sickness. Participants would be given a daily questionnaire three times a day to self-report symptoms as well as being monitored by two observers. The trial found that Sildenafil was successful, mainly due to the suppression of increased oxygen levels.

While these studies did find that Sildenafil would help with altitude sickness, as of now the preferred preventative measure to reduce sickness is a drug called nifedipine, which produces the same results as Sildenafil. While I am not going to campaign for the impeachment of Park, I am also unwilling to campaign. These studies have shown that there are other viable, and in fact more common altitude sickness medicines on the market. All I will say is that I am skeptical of President Park’s excuse.

Photo 1

Photo 2

Richalet, Jean-Paul. “American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.” Sildenafil Inhibits Altitude-induced Hypoxemia and Pulmonary Hypertension: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine: Vol 171, No 3. American Thoracic Society, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Van Peursem, Philip. “”Viagra Helps Mountaineers Perform at Altitude” by Philip Van Peursem.” Site. Pacific University Oregon, 11 Dec. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.

Leave a Reply