New Space and Tech

Blood Flow Reversals Could Negatively Affect Astronaut Health During Spaceflight

By Keith Cowing
November 18, 2019
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Blood Flow Reversals Could Negatively Affect Astronaut Health During Spaceflight

Question: Is long-duration exposure to weightlessness associated with impaired cerebral venous outflow and increased risk of jugular venous thrombosis?
Findings: In this cohort study of 11 International Space Station crew members, 6 crew members demonstrated stagnant or retrograde flow in the internal jugular vein on approximate flight day 50, and 1 crew member developed an occlusive internal jugular vein thrombus during spaceflight.

Meaning: Weightlessness is associated with blood flow stasis in the internal jugular vein, which may in turn lead to thrombosis in otherwise healthy astronauts, a newly discovered risk of spaceflight with potentially serious implications.


Importance : Exposure to a weightless environment during spaceflight results in a chronic headward blood and tissue fluid shift compared with the upright posture on Earth, with unknown consequences to cerebral venous outflow.

Objectives: To assess internal jugular vein (IJV) flow and morphology during spaceflight and to investigate if lower body negative pressure is associated with reversing the headward fluid shift experienced during spaceflight.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective cohort study included 11 International Space Station crew members participating in long-duration spaceflight missions . Internal jugular vein measurements from before launch and approximately 40 days after landing were acquired in 3 positions: seated, supine, and 15° head-down tilt. In-flight IJV measurements were acquired at approximately 50 days and 150 days into spaceflight during normal spaceflight conditions as well as during use of lower body negative pressure. Data were analyzed in June 2019.

Exposures: Posture changes on Earth, spaceflight, and lower body negative pressure.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Ultrasonographic assessments of IJV cross-sectional area, pressure, blood flow, and thrombus formation.

Results: The 11 healthy crew members included in the study (mean [SD] age, 46.9 [6.3] years, 9 [82%] men) spent a mean (SD) of 210 (76) days in space. Mean IJV area increased from 9.8 (95% CI, −1.2 to 20.7) mm2 in the preflight seated position to 70.3 (95% CI, 59.3-81.2) mm2 during spaceflight (P < .001). Mean IJV pressure increased from the preflight seated position measurement of 5.1 (95% CI, 2.5-7.8) mm Hg to 21.1 (95% CI, 18.5-23.7) mm Hg during spaceflight (P < .001). Furthermore, stagnant or reverse flow in the IJV was observed in 6 crew members (55%) on approximate flight day 50. Notably, 1 crew member was found to have an occlusive IJV thrombus, and a potential partial IJV thrombus was identified in another crew member retrospectively. Lower body negative pressure was associated with improved blood flow in 10 of 17 sessions (59%) during spaceflight. Conclusions and Relevance: This cohort study found stagnant and retrograde blood flow associated with spaceflight in the IJVs of astronauts and IJV thrombosis in at least 1 astronaut, a newly discovered risk associated with spaceflight. Lower body negative pressure may be a promising countermeasure to enhance venous blood flow in the upper body during spaceflight. Full paper: Assessment of Jugular Venous Blood Flow Stasis and Thrombosis During Spaceflight, JAMA Network Open

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.