It’s a problem few of us are likely to ever have, but its good to know, right? If you’re having a heart attack in space, you should do a handstand. Here’s why.
If there’s a cardiac arrest happening in space, someone might have to perform CPR – but that’s a bit tricky to do in microgravity. Professor Jochen Hinkelbein has a solution, though.
Professor Hinkelbein is the Executive Senior Physician at the Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine at University Hospital of Cologne in Germany. He is also President of the German Society for Aerospace Medicine (DGLRM).
TL;DR: He knows what he’s talking about.
“Since astronauts are selected carefully, are usually young, and are intensively observed before and during their training, relevant medical problems are, fortunately, rare in space. However, in the context of future long-term missions, for example to Mars, with durations of several years, the risk for severe medical problems is significantly higher,” Prof Hinkelbein says. “Therefore, there is also a substantial risk for a cardiac arrest in space requiring CPR.”
The space environment presents a number of unique problems to overcome when trying to deliver emergency medical care. In microgravity it’s just not possible to use body weight to perform actions such as CPR as it would be done on Earth, and there are strict limits on the amount of medical equipment and consumables that can be taken on a mission.
Prof Hinkelbein tested different methods of CPR in microgravity experiments onboard aircraft and in specialised underwater space simulators. The research found that using a “hand-stand” technique was the most effective way to treat a cardiac arrest and most closely matched the guidelines used here on Earth.
In situations where that method couldn’t be used – such as small confined spaces – the alternative is the Evetts-Russomano method of wrapping the legs around the patient to prevent them floating away while performing compressions.
The more you know.