Do astronauts experience ‘space headaches’? | Science & Technology

Space travel and zero gravity can take a toll on the body. A new study has found that astronauts with no prior history of headaches may experience migraine and tension-type headaches during long-haul space flight, which includes more than 10 days in space. The study was published in the March 13, 2024, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Changes in gravity caused by space flight affect the function of many parts of the body, including the brain,” said study author W. P. J. van Oosterhout, MD, PhD, of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “The vestibular system, which affects balance and posture, has to adapt to the conflict between the signals it is expecting to receive and the actual signals it receives in the absence of normal gravity. This can lead to space motion sickness in the first week, of which headache is the most frequently reported symptom. Our study shows that headaches also occur later in space flight and could be related to an increase in pressure within the skull.”

The study involved 24 astronauts from the European Space Agency, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They were assigned to International Space Station expeditions for up to 26 weeks from November 2011 to June 2018.

Prior to the study, nine astronauts reported never having any headaches and three had a headache that interfered with daily activities in the last year. None of them had a history of recurrent headaches or had ever been diagnosed with migraine.

Of the total participants, 22 astronauts experienced one or more episode of headache during a total of 3,596 days in space for all participants.

Astronauts completed health screenings and a questionnaire about their headache history before the flight. During space flight, astronauts filled out a daily questionnaire for the first seven days and a weekly questionnaire each following week throughout…

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