Space Headaches (Space Headaches) - 08.29.18

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Headaches can be a common complaint during spaceflight. The Space Headaches experiment improves our understanding of such conditions, which helps in the development of methods to alleviate associated symptoms, and improve the well-being and performance of crew members in orbit. This can also improve our knowledge of similar conditions on Earth.
Science Results for Everyone
Spending time in space can be a headache – literally. Possible causes for this common ailment include space motion sickness (SMS), intracranial pressure, stress, fatigue, and changes in sleep and nutrition. Out of 17 randomly-selected crew members, 71 percent reported having a headache in space, but only 12 percent of those reported SMS symptoms. The majority reported headaches of moderate intensity and non-specific symptoms not associated with SMS. Researchers conclude that homeostatic changes such as cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure may best explain space headaches, and suggest classifying them as homeostasis disorders rather than linked to SMS.

The following content was provided by A. Vein, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Space Headaches

Principal Investigator(s)
A. Vein, Department of Neurology, Leiden, Netherlands

Willebrordus Petrus Johannes Van Oosterhout, M.D., Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), Leiden, Netherlands
M. D. Ferrari, Department of Neurology, Leiden, Netherlands
G. M. Terwindt, Department of Neurology, Leiden, Netherlands

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
European Space Agency

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
September 2011 - March 2016; March 2016 - October 2018

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview
It is hypothesized that headaches in microgravity represent a separate entity among the secondary headaches attributed to disorders of homeostasis. Space Headaches aims to:
• Obtain retrospective post-flight data to allow the evaluation of headache episodes in crew members that have participated in space missions during the past 15 years.
• Assess the incidence of headache episodes in current crew members.
• Analyze headache characteristics and classify headaches according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders.
• Provide the basis for developing future countermeasures for headaches during space flight in order to minimize complaints and optimize the crew member's working ability and the living conditions.

Information Pending

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Space Applications
Headaches during space flight can negatively affect mental and physical capacities of crew members which can influence performance during a space mission. Data from this experiment improve our understanding of such conditions, providing a stepping stone to development of countermeasures to alleviate associated symptoms, thus improving the well-being of our crew members in orbit, and in turn improving astronaut performance.

Earth Applications
Headaches are also common on Earth, either as an isolated condition or as one symptom of another medical condition. Improving the knowledge we gather in space of the nature and occurrence of headaches could also provide an insight to associated conditions on Earth.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
• Crew members are required to complete a questionnaire any time within six month prior to launch.
• Crew members complete questionnaires daily during the first week starting from launch.
• Following the first week, crew members complete questionnaires every 7 +/- 2 days (preferably towards the end of the week).
• In case of sleep shift, no change to the schedule shall be applied.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Headaches are a common ailment on the International Space Station (ISS). Researchers are unsure about what causes these headaches. They may result from space motion sickness (SMS) or other reasons; such as, intracranial pressure, stress, fatigue, changes in sleep and nutrition, among others. This study asked 17 randomly-selected crew members (between 28-58 years of age) to report headache episodes before, during, and after space flight using criteria from the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) and found that 71% of crew members reported a headache episode in space. Of the crew members that experienced headaches, only 12% reported symptoms related to SMS. The large majority reported headaches of moderate intensity and symptoms that were non-specific and not associated with SMS. Researchers think that homeostatic changes such as cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure may explain space headaches. The study concluded that headaches experienced in space ought to be classified as part of a homeostasis disorder and not necessarily linked to SMS.

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Results Publications

    Vein AA, Koppen H, Haan J, Terwindt GM, Ferrari MD.  Space headache: A new secondary headache. Cephalalgia. 2009 June 1; 29(6): 683-686. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2982.2008.01775.x.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

    Gazerani P.  Space headaches. Future Neurology. 2017 March 30; 12(2): 4 pp. DOI: 10.2217/fnl-2017-0002.

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Related Websites
BBC News--Space Headache a Real Phenomenon

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