A new study unveiled at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, D.C. shows that astronauts’ hearts become spherical in space and, although the shape goes back to normal once they return to Earth, the effects could be felt in the long run. The authors of the study also believe that this discovery can help them answer questions regarding common cardiovascular problems for ground-based patients. The findings could even offer NASA extensive information regarding its plan to send people to Mars in the future, missions which require long flights that expose astronauts to more health problems.
The study carried out by senior author James Thomas, MD, Lead Scientist for Ultrasound at NASA and Moore Chair of Cardiovascular Imaging concluded that astronauts’ hearts become spherical in space, a statement based on the analysis of 12 astronauts working at the International Space Station. According to Thomas, since the heart’s work is diminished in space, “a loss of muscular mass” can be caused. As a result, astronauts could have severe problems when returning to Earth, which is why the team of specialists is “looking into whether there are measures that can be taken to prevent or counteract that loss.” Astronauts’ hearts could be taken care of with exercise regimens developed especially for them, but experts believe that this plan might also help people with heart problems who either have heart failure or are on extended bed rest.
Missions in Space Related to Health Problems
The study which revealed that astronauts’ hearts become spherical in space was carried out with the help of 12 astronauts whose hearts were observed before, during and after space missions. Ultrasound machines were used in order to take pictures and offer data regarding the condition of the astronauts’ hearts; experts concluded that the essential organ became more spherical by 9.4 percent, which could mean that it is performing less efficiently in zero gravity.
Although long-term health effects linked to the spherical shape of the heart have not been yet identified, previous studies have proved that long trips in space also mean that astronauts are exposed to diverse health issues like vision anomalies and losses in bone structure.
Plans for Common Cardiovascular Conditions
The study unveiled at the American College of Cardiology’s 63rd Annual Scientific Session in Washington, D.C. which shows that astronauts’ hearts become spherical in space is beneficial not only for astronauts, but also for common cardiovascular conditions for ground-based people. Thomas is confident that the study’s conclusions could “predict what happens to the heart under different stresses.”
At the same time, the team of specialists also believes that the findings could be transformed into generalized models that can analyze other heart conditions which may happen in space, like valvular heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and ischemic heart disease. Experts also hope that this study will shed some light on what a spaceflight which lasts 18 months or more would mean for the astronauts’ health. Even if the astronauts’ hearts become spherical in space and return to normal once they head back to Earth, extensive studies must be carried out in order to find out if there are any long-term dangers that walk hand in hand with the heart’s changing shape.
By Gabriela Motroc