Induced Hypothermia: A Novel Treatment for Brain-related Injuries

Induced hypothermia, while underused, has been proven to improve outcomes after ischemic injury.

Induced hypothermia is an experimental treatment used to deliberately cool the body as a way to prevent or limit permanent injuries if it is applied to a patient “within the first couple hours of a clinical event.” This technique, also known as cold therapy, was applied to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett last September when he suffered a life-threatening spinal cord injury during a game after tackling Domenik Hixon of the Denver Broncos. Induced hypothermia was administered on the way to the hospital and has been credited with being one of the reasons why Everett is now able to walk. However, Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, orthopedic surgeon and spinal specialist at Millard Fillmore Gates Hospital and member of the Buffalo Bills’ training staff, received a lot of grief over his decision to use induced hypothermia because it hasn’t been researched enough to be considered a standard treatment.

A review was published in the June 7 issue of The Lancet claiming that induced hypothermia is “underused in the UK and in the US.” Dr. Kees Polderman of the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, discusses evidence that has “demonstrated improved outcomes after ischemic injury… when the body temperature is reduced from [98.6°F] to between [89.6-95°F].” Polderman claims that “Hypothermia is a highly promising treatment in neurocritical care; thus, physicians caring for patients with neurological injuries, both in and outside the intensive care unit, are likely to be confronted with questions about temperature management more frequently.” Although positive effects have been more clearly represented in brain injuries, it may be possible that this same treatment could help with injuries to the heart and kidneys.

To learn more about this review, download the audio summary featuring an interview with Polderman in which he addresses some of controversies surrounding induced hypothermia, reviews some of the techniques used when administering the treatment, and offers guidance on when physicians should consider using induced hypothermia to treat a patient.

Although induced hypothermia is still a controversial treatment, physicians are beginning to recognize its potential.

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