DALLAS. – Ever stand up too quickly and see stars? Fainting from low blood pressure can be dangerous for astronauts as well as for patients. With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers are publishing heart-related space research that helps us to understand the problem of low blood pressure.
now in Circulation, is the first to examine this condition – called orthostatic
intolerance – during daily activities when the astronauts returned home. The
researchers found that exercise regimens during space flight, followed by
saline injections after landing, were sufficient to prevent the condition from
Dr. Benjamin Levine led the study and has worked in space research for
three decades. Dr. Levine is a Professor of Internal Medicine at
UT Southwestern and Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental
Medicine, a collaboration between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Presbyterian
“Doing an hour or more of daily
exercise was sufficient to prevent loss of heart muscle, and when
it was combined with receiving hydration on their return, the condition was
prevented entirely,” said Dr. Levine. “We expected to see up to two-thirds of
the space crew faint. Instead, no one fainted.”
researchers used an unusual tool, a small blood pressure cuff on each
astronaut’s finger, to measure blood pressure and every heartbeat. These
measurements were taken during multiple 24-hour
periods before, during, and after six months of spaceflight. Twelve astronauts
were involved, eight men and four women.
condition is also diagnosed in patients as Postural Orthostatic
Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), which is predominantly found in women. The
dizziness that it causes is life-changing and can be debilitating. Dr. Levine
helped one Dallas patient return to a normal life:
treatment is just one of the ways medicine, heart research, and space travel
have connected throughout Dr. Levine’s work. The successful moon landing in 1969 was an early influence on his career.
“Like most kids in the 1960s, everyone gathered around to watch the broadcast in
black and white. For a kid interested in science, this was the pinnacle of
life,” said Dr. Levine. “The space program always had a strong pull for me. I
liked to think about the limits of human capacity and what could be.”
interest led Dr. Levine into space research within the field of cardiology, and
he began working with the space shuttle program in 1991.
“We put a catheter in an astronaut’s
heart – it was former UT Southwestern faculty member Dr. Drew Gaffney –- and
sent him into space. It was probably the most expensive right-heart
catheterization ever,” Dr. Levine reminisced. “Much of our early research was
devoted to understanding why astronauts faint when they return from space. Now,
we can prevent it from happening.”
Circulation study was funded by NASA and published by the American Heart
Association. Dr. Levine holds the Distinguished Professorship in
Exercise Sciences at UT Southwestern.
Southwestern researchers who contributed to the study include: Dr. Qi Fu,
Associate Professor of Internal Medicine; and Beverley Adams-Huet, Assistant
Professor of Population and Data Sciences and Internal Medicine.
Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the USA, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education.
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