Space travel proves to be a bit of a headache

Leiden, Holland – Dutch researchers say astronauts need to add headaches to their list of occupational hazards.

More than two-thirds of 17 experienced astronauts polled told researchers that they suffered from headaches on space missions but didn’t normally suffer from them back on Earth. Crews have suffered from space sickness – usually nausea, vomiting and vertigo – since the early days of manned spaceflight. Rusty Schweickart famously decorated the inside of his space helmet during a spacewalk on the Apollo 9 mission.

The headaches are described by sufferers as ‘exploding’.  It had previously been thought that headaches in space were a symptom of motion sickness, caused by disorientation due to the absence of gravity. However, some 75 per cent of the headaches reported in the Dutch research had none of the associated major symptoms of space sickness.

Nine headaches occurred during launch, nine whilst onboard the ISS, one during an EVA outside the space station and two during landing.

Researchers at the Department of Neurology, Leiden University Medical Center, reported that although headaches in space are not generally considered to be a major issue, disabling headaches frequently occur during space missions in astronauts who do not normally suffer from headaches on earth.

“Previous research has shown that astronauts can be reluctant to reveal all the physical complaints they experience in space, so the actual incidence could be even higher than our study suggests,” added the scientists.