Space travel has resulted in a man walking on the moon, water discovered on Mars and investments going toward colonizing parts of outer space.
But in order to make it a reality for the masses, scientists have to find a way to overcome a common phenomenon experienced by astronauts: fainting and dizzy spells once they land back on earth.
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Fainting Part of Life for Astronauts
For close to fifty years now, astronauts who spend prolonged time in space experience fainting when they come back down. The longer the amount of time in a gravity-free environment the bigger the risk is.
Researchers led by Benjamin Levine, M.D., a professor of Exercise Sciences at UT Southwestern Medical Center and director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, discovered that they can overcome fainting spells if the astronauts exercise while in space.
Known as orthostatic hypotension in the medical world, it occurs when blood pressure drops temporarily when a person stands up after sitting or lying down. The blood rushes away from the brain causing dizziness and/or fainting. It can happen to people with health disorder and to astronauts who are in a low gravity environment for a prolonged period of time.
Exercise in Space Keeps Fainiting in Check
The study, which was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation followed twelve astronauts who spent roughly six months in space. The group was comprised of eight men and four women ranging in ages from 43 to 56. Each engaged in as much as two hours a day of endurance and resistance training during a space flight.
The aim was to prevent deconditioning of the cardiovascular system, bones and muscle tone. Upon landing, the astronauts received a saline infusion. The researchers, who monitored the heartbeat of the astronauts over 24-hour periods before, during and after they came back from space, found there was little impact to blood pressure during all the different phases. None of the astronauts fainted or experienced dizziness 24 hours after landing.
Work to be Applied to Non-Astronauts
"What surprised me the most was how well the astronauts did after spending six months in space. I thought there would be frequent episodes of fainting when they returned to Earth, but they didn't have any. It's compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the countermeasures--the exercise regimen and fluid replenishment," Levine said in a press release announcing the results of the study. He noted this is the first study to show that astronauts won’t experience dizziness or fainting during routine activity when they land, granted they exercise in space and receive IV fluids when they return to earth.
The researchers said more work needs to be done given the small sample size. They are hoping to study a large number of astronauts and look at those who spend more than six months in space. They also hope to apply their findings to non-astronauts. The researchers found the exercise program designed in the lab for the astronauts help people suffering from a fainting condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). "As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, it's exciting to think of how our exploration in and of space can lead to important medical advances here on Earth," Levine said.