Michael Braukus Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

February 17, 1993 (Phone: 202/358-0872) Jane Hutchison Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif. (Phone: 415/604-9000) RELEASE: 93-030 NASA STUDY MAY HELP REDUCE LIGHTHEADEDNESS AFTER SPACE FLIGHT A study at NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, Calif., may lead to improved ways of keeping astronauts from feeling faint when they stand after returning to Earth from space. Dr. Joan Vernikos, the study's principal investigator, said a reduced level of plasma is believed to contribute to this tendency to feel faint. Plasma is the fluid part of the blood, without blood cells. "The primary purpose of this study is to compare the effectiveness of two procedures that expand plasma volume," said Vernikos, Chief of Ames' Life Science Division. "We long have known that expanded plasma volume may be a key to preventing fainting in people following head-down bed rest and potentially, in astronauts," she said. Bed rest in a slightly head-down position simulates many of the physiological effects of weightlessness. Vernikos said that without the pull of Earth's gravity, astronauts experience an upward shift of body fluids. The body responds to what it perceives as excess fluid and reduces the amount of circulating fluid volume by excreting more urine.

Upon return to the normal gravity of Earth, fluids again shift to the lower extremities. This increases the chance an astronaut will feel lightheaded immediately after landing, she said. By finding reliable and acceptable means of increasing the plasma volume in volunteers, Vernikos believes much of this light-headedness can be prevented. Space Shuttle crews routinely take water and salt tablets just before re-entry. Vernikos said this is believed to expand plasma volume in astronauts in space, but it has never been measured. - more - 2"We don't know by how much and for how long the expansion of plasma lasts, especially in the weightless state when the body's normal response is to excrete excess fluid," she said. "We also have had promising results with a synthetic steroid similar to steroids normally found in the body," Vernikos said. This steroid, which produces the same effect as the salt tablets and water, may provide a more reliable alternative, particularly as mission lengths increase. It is used clinically to treat people who faint or experience sudden bouts of low blood pressure when they stand, she said. Her study involves six women and six men ages 30 to 50. Plasma volume is measured in each person under three conditions: after taking water and salt tablets, after taking the synthetic steroid or after no medication. Two hours after each treatment, the volunteer lies quietly for 30 minutes. A blood sample is drawn and a dye is injected into the volunteer, then a second sample is drawn for the measurement of plasma volume. The volunteer then stands for 15 minutes and additional blood samples are drawn 5 and 15 minutes after standing. Blood samples will be used to measure the hormones that regulate sodium and fluids. Blood pressure and heart rate responses to standing also are measured. The study will add to the limited data about how women adapt to space flight. Although women also serve as astronauts, data

from flight and ground-based simulation studies are derived almost exclusively from men, Vernikos said. "The very few studies that have included women suggest that they tolerate and adapt to head-down bedrest as well as men," she said. Responses to the treatments may vary not only by sex, but also with the time of day, she added. Vernikos will measure the effectiveness of both treatments during the day and at night. "Our purpose is to find the most effective treatment and the minimum effective dose, with the least side effects, for both sexes," she said. "It is very important that we have this information before we test drugs of any kind on astronauts in space." Previous studies have shown that all people with a tendency to faint have some common characteristics, Vernikos said. These include a higher plasma volume under everyday resting conditions. In addition, various hormones that constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure when the person stands up are less effective in fainters. After bedrest or space flight, these characteristics are aggravated. Besides expanding plasma volume, the steroid also may boost these mechanisms. Drs. Mary F. Dallman and Lanny Keil of the University of California, San Francisco, are co-investigators. Dee O'Hara, Manager of Ames' Human Research Facility, is coordinating the study. - end -