A (momentarily) unidentified astronaut who is aboard the ISS (International Space Station) suffered a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – commonly known as a blood clot – in the jugular vein (of the neck), a new case study reports.
The identity of the astronaut is kept secret for privacy reasons, and so are many details that could reveal details about the person in cause. The astronaut was aboard the International Space Station for about two months (out of a six-month stay) when the DVT was discovered.
Unusual world record
This is the first case of an astronaut with a blood clot in space. Unfortunately, this meant that NASA had no standard procedure for treating such conditions in a “zero gravity” environment.
Experts to the rescue
NASA brought in experts for advice in order to sort out the problem as fast as possible. One of them was blood clot expert Stephan Moll, M.D. professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He is the only non-NASA member that was consulted to develop a treatment plan for the astronaut’s clot, UNC officials said in the statement.
The statement reads: “Moll and a team of NASA doctors decided blood thinners would be the best course of treatment for the astronaut. They were limited in their pharmaceutical options, however.”
At the moment when the clot was discovered, a limited amount of Enoxaparin (blood thinner) was available. Moll was quick to help NASA figure out how to ration the stock of Enoxaparin available aboard the space station in order to efficiently treat the DVT.
Stretching the drug by rationing it was a tough challenge because it had to be done well enough to last until NASA was able to launch a new shipment of drugs for future use.
Enoxaparin is a drug delivered via skin injection. The astronaut had to treat the clot for about 40 days. Thankfully, on the 43rd day of treatment, a supply of Apixaban (which is a pill taken orally) was delivered at the ISS on an unmentioned cargo resupply spacecraft.
The overall treatment process took about three months. The astronaut had to carefully monitor the blood clot by performing ultrasound scans on their neck (while also being assisted by a radiology team on Earth) all this time.
Additionally, the astronaut and Moll kept in touch via email and regular phone calls.
The astronaut safely returned home at the planned end of the six-month mission and it turned out that the blood clot required no more treatment, which was a big achievement for the astronaut, space agency and medics altogether.
The DVT was observed when the astronaut was running an ultrasound check of their neck to track how body fluids are redistributed in conditions of zero gravity. The shocking part is that the astronaut had not experienced any sorts of abnormalities.
UNC officials said that “if it wasn’t for the study, there’s no telling what the outcome could have been.”
This is solid proof that we’re still not fully aware of the effect of space on the human body and also good motivation to continuously study it because many lives are at stake.