Hypothermia as a brain injury treatment

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Even though the risk of birth injuries resulting in brain damage remains about the same as the rates from two decades ago, Ohio parents are gaining new hope with an unconventional new treatment. Newborns with brain trauma or oxygen deprivation are being cooled to hypothermic levels in order to minimize long-term effects of the medical problems. This unusual method is gaining traction among even conservative physicians’ groups.

For every 1,000 live births in our nation, one to two infants will experience oxygen deprivation that could endanger their brain health. About 20 percent of those victims die, and 50 percent of the survivors are afflicted with cerebral palsy or some other developmental problem. These conditions can affect intellectual capacity, along with movement and muscle coordination.

Now, physicians are increasingly advocating for a hypothermia treatment for brain-trauma victims. The babies’ core temperature is lowered to about 92 degrees from the normal 98.6, according to experts. This cooling therapy prevents the continued death of brain cells because of the trauma; research shows that the cells continue to perish even days after the initial injury. Advocates of the process say the hypothermia method allows for a “reset” in the infant’s brain, preventing further injury and essentially allowing for a form of rebirth.

The babies are then slowly reheated at a rate of half a degree per hour. Infants’ brains and other vital systems are carefully monitored to ensure patient safety. The treatment is based on similar methods for adults who have suffered from cardiac events. Statistical evidence shows a greatly reduced likelihood for lifelong intellectual and physical problems for infants who have undergone the unconventional process.

As hypothermia treatment becomes more widespread, physicians may be able to fix even their own medical malpractice errors. Still, families whose infants have sustained birth injuries because of physician error should seek financial compensation for medical bills and potential future disability. Contact an attorney to find out more about your legal options in this case.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Hypothermia cure: cooling infants to battle brain damage,” Shirley S. Wang, April 8, 2013