Can Hypothermia Save Lives?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Did you know that ice can potentially save your life? If you’re having a heart attack, it could.

Scientists are discovering how cooling the human body down several degrees can actually save lives.

This isn’t the stuff of science fiction, but the result of many years of research.

If you find this interesting, read on to find out how hypothermia is making a difference in the medical field.

Who knows, it may actually save your life one day.

Hypothermia Protects Cells From Destruction

Why does cooling save lives? Well, it’s not completely known, but scientists think it has something to do with the body’s metabolism.

Cooling lowers your metabolic rate, allowing your heart, brain, and other organs to use less energy. It lowers their oxygen requirements1 and puts the body in a state of “slow motion,” similar to what happens to animals during hibernation. Consequently, this also protects cells from destruction, toxins, and inflammation.1

During therapy, hospitals infuse a cool saline solution and place cooling pads or ice packs onto the body. The body is then cooled to temperatures between 90-93° F. Then after a certain period of time, the body is rewarmed. Standard care is then given along with the therapy.1

Now we know this therapy might come off as strange at first glance, but the research shows that it’s rather promising.

According to Research, Ice Saves Lives

A couple of years ago, New York paramedics used hypothermia for cardiac arrest patients as part of a large study. The objective was to determine if patients were more likely to survive if they were cooled. The research showed that survival improved significantly.2

In a landmark study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with cardiac arrest were divided into two groups, one that received hypothermia therapy and a control group, which received standard therapy.

Among the 136 patients for whom the data were available, 59% of the hypothermia patients were still alive after six months, compared to 45% in the control group.3

In another study, cardiac arrest survivors were randomly split into two groups. One group received hypothermia therapy while the other group did not. The survival rate of the hypothermia group was 49%, and the survival rate of the second group was only 26%.4

Pretty interesting, isn't it?

Is Therapeutic Hypothermia Coming to a Hospital Near You?

Not yet … at least. It’s not exactly considered “standard of care” right now, but the American Heart Association has recommended it. Regardless, many hospitals like the University of Pennsylvania are now using this therapy and are training others to use it too.

For the most part, therapeutic hypothermia is still considered investigative, and many doctors are simply not open to the idea quite yet. But hopefully, as more research comes out, this will change.

So what do you think about all of this? Tell us in the comments!

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.med.upenn.edu/resuscitation/docs/TH_Family_Brochure_FINAL.pdf. Accessed June 10th, 2013.
  2. Available at: http://my.americanheart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@scon/documents/downloadable/ucm_433652.pdf. Accessed June 10th 2013.
  3. N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 21;346(8):549-56.
  4. N Engl J Med. 2002 Feb 21;346(8):557-63.

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