NYMC Faculty Publications

Cardiovascular disease in space: A systematic review

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Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases

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BACKGROUND: With expanding commercial space programs, uncertainty remains about the cardiovascular effects of space environmental exposures including microgravity, confinement, isolation, space radiation, and altered bacterial virulence. Current limited data suggests additional health threats compared to Earth. METHODS: We systematically reviewed PubMed, CENTRAL, Web of Science, EMBASE and Cochrane databases for prospective studies on spaceflight and cardiovascular outcomes. Search terms combined cardiovascular disease topics with spaceflight concepts. No date or language restrictions were imposed. RESULTS: 35 studies representing 2696 space travelers met inclusion criteria. Studies were grouped into spaceflight associations with: atherosclerosis, mortality, cardiac function, orthostatic intolerance, and arrhythmias. Atherosclerosis evidence was limited, with animal studies linking space radiation to endothelial damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation. However, human data showed no significantly increased atherosclerotic disease in astronauts. Mortality studies demonstrated lower cardiovascular mortality in astronauts compared to the general population however there was conflicting data. Cardiac function studies revealed physiologic ventricular atrophy, increased arterial stiffness, and altered blood flow distribution attributed to microgravity exposure. Effects appeared transient and reversible post-flight. Orthostatic intolerance studies found astronauts experienced altered heart rate variability, baroreflex response, and blood pressure changes post-flight. Arrhythmia studies showed increased ventricular ectopy during spaceflight, but limited data on long term flights. CONCLUSIONS: Environmental space hazards impact the cardiovascular system through multiple mechanisms. Microgravity causes cardiac atrophy and orthostatic intolerance while space radiation may potentially accelerate atherosclerosis. Further research is needed, especially regarding long-term spaceflights.