Astronaut receives treatment for blood clot during ISS mission

Henrietta Brewer
January 6, 2020

Though the astronaut showed no other symptoms, the scan clearly showed the presence of a blood clot in the jugular vein.

It was found during a research project that involved astronauts taking ultrasounds of their neck to find out how body fluid is redistributed in zero gravity.

The International Space Station hovers just 250 miles above the surface of the Earth.

As the report points out, it was the first time that NASA had registered such a condition, which prompted specialists to weigh the risks of anticoagulation therapy in space conditions or the clot blocking a vessel, which could kill a person.

Stephen Moll, a blood clot expert and professor of medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, was called upon to provide treatment to the astronaut. He was the only non-NASA expert considered for the treatment.

"My first reaction when NASA reached out to me was to ask if I could visit the International Space Station (ISS) to examine the patient myself", said Stephan Moll, MD, UNC School of Medicine blood clot expert and long-time NASA enthusiast.

The pharmacy on the space station contained 20 vials with 300 milligrams each of an injectable blood thinner, which the astronaut was directed to use on a daily basis until an anticoagulant drug could be sent up to the station on a resupply mission.

At the moment when the clot was discovered, a limited amount of Enoxaparin (blood thinner) was available. If it wasn't for the study, there's no telling what the outcome could have been. The blood was treated with Enoxaparin. "There is some risk when taking blood thinners - if an injury occurs, it could cause internal bleeding that is hard to stop.emergency medical attention could be needed.We had to weigh our options very carefully".

Moll is a star when it comes to his blood clot expertise, having been published in medical journals.

When working with challenging cases, doctors often look to the medical record to see how previous occurrences have been handled. The astronaut patient (whose details haven't been made public by NASA to maintain the astronaut's privacy) injected him/herself for 40 days till they ran out. "My spouse picked up, and it was the International Space Station, and she or he handed the phone to me and saying 'There maybe somebody from outer space which needs to speak to you, '" Moll stated. 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.

"It was incredible to get a call from an astronaut in space", said Dr Moll.

The astronaut, who has since returned to Earth, has had no further problems.

The astronaut stopped taking the medication four days before their return to Earth due to the potential danger of re-entry.

"Is this something that is more common in space?" "All of these questions need answering, especially with the plan that astronauts will embark on longer missions to the Moon and Mars". Should there be more medications for it kept on the ISS? The team of doctors decided that space travel is risky enough and physically demanding, they didn't want to take a chance.

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