YOUR HEALTH Healing future astronauts

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SANTA MONICA, California – Researchers says astronauts are coming back to Earth with new medical problems.   For one thing, their eyesight is worse once their mission is over.

That could have a big impact for future space exploration.


Back on Earth, Karen Lemen was diagnosed with hydrocephalus a year ago.

Doctors put in a shunt to drain fluid from her brain.   That shunt made her a good candidate for a study to help astronauts, because it gives doctors easy access to measure changes in blood pressure.

"I was looking for a way to give, of myself and the easiest way is to just give back and participate," said Karen.  "Be a guinea pig if you will!"

Dr. Santosh Kesari is part of a NASA-funded study to develop a device that regulates pressure in astronauts' eyes and brain in space.

A thigh cuff may be the answer.

In the test, participants move wearing the cuff which is tightened and loosened to change blood pressure.

"What we're doing is measuring the pressure in real time, by hooking the shunt up to an external pressure monitor and at the same time we`re having her sit up, lie flat, or head down and then checking the pressures," explained Dr. Santosh Kesari of the John Wayne Cancer Institute.

Early results show pressure in the brain can be adjusted by managing blood flow in the leg.   Dr. Kesari is encouraged, but says there's much work to do.

"Can we use a thigh cuff at a certain pressure, certain times of the day, hours of the day, to prevent the long term consequences of that pressure changes in space?" said Dr. Kesari.

Karen is thrilled she may help solve the puzzle for our astronauts.

There was a surprise benefit for one of the study participants: the thigh cuff relieved her chronic headaches.   Dr. Kesari is working on a cuff or compression stockings to improve symptoms from pressure in the brain.

BACKGROUND: Scientists have long known spaceflight is bad for astronaut muscles and bones, but now new evidence suggests it may cause vision problems too. Optic abnormalities may occur similar to the ones that occur in patients with intracranial hypertension, a condition where pressure builds inside of the skull. MRI findings revealed that short and long term exposure to microgravity caused these abnormalities of the eyes, causing vision problems for astronauts. These problems were varied and numerous, from expansion of the cerebrospinal fluid space surrounding the optic nerve, to flattening of the back of the eyeball. (Source:

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