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Does space give you headaches?

Does space give you headaches?

From left: Alexander Grebenkin of Roscosmos, Matthew Dominik, and Janet Epps of NASA inside the Destiny Module on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Space sickness, like car sickness, sea sickness, or mountain sickness, exists. The reason for this situation is the absence of gravity, or rather the absence of gravity Microgravity The symptoms are very similar: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and headache. It usually improves as the body adapts to the new condition, within two or three days. However, some of these symptoms may become persistent during a prolonged stay. Headaches, for example. A group of Dutch researchers conducted an investigation on 24 astronauts from various space agencies, including the European Agency, who participated in at least one mission on the International Space Station, and found a relationship between staying in space and the recurrence of symptoms. the studio Posted today on Neurology, Medical journal l American Academy of Neurology.

“Changes in gravity caused by spaceflight affect the functioning of many parts of the body, including the brain,” he explains. Willibrordus P.J. van Oosterhout, a researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, is the first author of this paper. “The vestibular system, which affects balance and posture, must adapt to the discrepancy between the signals it expects to receive and those it actually receives in a state of normal weightlessness. This could lead to Motion sickness Spatial in the first week, of which headache is the most frequently reported symptom.”

We said that the study included 24 astronauts from the European Space Agency, NASA, and JAXA – the Japanese Aerospace Agency – who were assigned to exploratory missions on the International Space Station for a maximum period of 26 weeks between November 2011 and June 2018. Nine of the astronauts said that they did not suffer from headaches. There was never a cat on the floor, while three of them suffered from headache attacks that interfered with their daily activities last year. However, none of them suffered from recurrent headaches or migraines.

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During their space mission, the astronauts completed a daily questionnaire for the first seven days and a weekly questionnaire every subsequent week for the duration of their stay on the space station. In all, 22 astronauts reported one or more headache attacks during their time in space. Of the headaches reported, 90 percent (170) were tension-type headaches and the remaining 10 percent (19) were migraines.

The researchers also found that headaches were more severe and more frequent and migraine-like during the first week of being in space. During this period, 21 astronauts experienced one or more headaches for a total of 51 attacks. Of these cases, 39 cases were considered to be tension type and 12 cases (23.5%, more than double compared to the statistics for the entire period) were considered migraine type.

In the three months following their return to Earth, none of the astronauts reported headaches. Compared to the headache resulting from so-called “space sickness”, which ends within a few days, The study shows that this symptom can also appear later during spaceflight.

Regarding the causes, the article puts forward some hypotheses, although this research is limited to highlighting the connection between the symptoms (headaches) and the circumstance (constancy in space). However, two different mechanisms must be invoked, which differentiate between headaches in the first days in space and headaches that persist in the following weeks. In fact, in the first week adaptation to weightlessness occurs. In the absence of gravity, there is a loss of auricular signals associated with tilt, and the hypothesis is that this generates a conflict between the expected signals from the sensory organs and the actual signals that serve to determine spatial direction. This may also be the main cause of spatial motion sickness (space sickness), of which headache is the most common symptom. However, during a longer stay, one occurs Redistribution of body fluids Which also affects the head Which can cause fluid shifts inside and outside the skull, Increased intracranial pressure and provoke headaches.

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“More research is needed to unravel the underlying causes of space headaches and explore how these findings can provide insight into headaches that occur on Earth,” van Oosterhout concludes. “Furthermore, it is necessary to develop more effective treatments to combat space headache, which for many astronauts is a major problem during spaceflight.”

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