Astronauts' Hearts Change Shape in Space

#Health

Wed, Apr 2nd, 2014 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

Scientists, who have had astronauts take regular images of their hearts using ultrasound machines, have discovered that zero-gravity causes the organ to become more spherical in space. The change, which is only temporary, has researchers believe that "the heart is performing less efficiently in zero gravity."

The new findings bolsters the evidence that even longer periods in space, as would occur on a mission to Mars, is associated with increased dangers on human health. The results of the astronaut study will help scientists better understand how a spaceflight lasting 18 months or longer could affect heart health.

“The heart doesn’t work as hard in space, which can cause a loss of muscle mass,” senior study author James Thomas, MD, Moore Chair of Cardiovascular Imaging and Lead Scientist for Ultrasound at NASA, said in a statement. “That can have serious consequences after the return to Earth, so we’re looking into whether there are measures that can be taken to prevent or counteract that loss.”

In order to keep the heart healthy in space, astronauts will need to know the amount and type of exercise they need to perform to guarantee their safety on prolonged spaceflights. Thomas noted that exercise regimens developed for astronauts could also help people on Earth who have physical limitations also maintain good heart health.

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