The right trousers

By Nell Boyce in Washington DC GRAVITY-simulating trousers designed to maintain normal blood flow in astronauts have given doctors an idea which could lead to a new way of identifying potential stroke victims. Though people can take medication to lower high blood pressure, many still have strokes. This is sometimes because blood pressure drops too low, especially at night, when sluggish blood flow can lead to clots. So John Absher, a neurologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has developed a test to see who might be at risk—basing his idea on the fact that in orbit, astronauts’ “space pants” are hooked up to a vacuum to simulate gravity by pulling blood down to their legs. Ten patients in Absher’s study placed their legs in a vacuum drum while he measured blood pressure and carotid artery flow. He also ran an ECG and a PET brain scan to visualise the brain’s blood flow. The vacuum produced higher blood pressure in the legs, while lowering it in the upper body and head and gradually lowering the blood pressure in the brain. “The main thing we look for are symptoms. Patients are awake for the whole thing and tell us that they feel dizzy or nauseated,” says Absher. This allows his team to determine the lowest safe blood pressure, and so the stroke risk,
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