Suspension trauma also called (Harness Hang Syndrome or Orthostatic shock while suspended) is the development of presyncopal symptoms and loss of consciousness due to a victim being suspended in an upright position with limited movement by a harness belt for a period of time after fall. This can rapidly lead to death if the victim is not timely recognized, rescued and treated.
It is a condition recognized in industries working at height and by manufacturers of personal fall protection, but it does not appear to be widely known about in the medical profession.
How suspension trauma occur
It is said to occur when someone is suspended from a harness after fall because of blood pooling down to the legs region due to gravity. Since the person is suspended and immobile, and can no more use the leg muscles, the individual will be unable to restore venous return to the heart.
There are key factors believed to contribute to the development of the suspension trauma. There are two (2) factors which severely impair blood from returning to the heart to supply oxygen to the brain, and they are:
- Lack of movement especially with the legs which hinders venous return to the heart.
- Body weight in the harness compressing veins.
Major organs affected by this deficiency which result to this trauma is the brain and the heart. This is because the more blood will be stacked in the legs, and less blood will be available for the rest of the body, especially the heart and the brain.
Due to less blood returning to the heart, there will be a drop in blood pressure, and concomitant increase in heart rate. If this situation is not salvage on time, less and less blood will be available for the brain, and oxygen delivery by the blood to the brain will also be severely reduced causing the victim to lose consciousness and dead if early rescue is not available.
Symptoms of suspension trauma
Prior to the development of the trauma, the victim begins to experience the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Numbness in the legs, etc.
Prevention of the suspension trauma
Since the situation could be deadly, the best option is to prevent it from occurring.
To prevent this, where ever there is height work where suspension is likely, a rescue plan should be in place. The best way to prevent this trauma is timely rescue; as fast as possible.
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