Study: Hypothermia benefits oxygen-deprived babies

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Information from a newly released study shows that babies who have suffered from a lack of oxygen at birth may benefit from a previously little-known treatment that involves cooling their bodies. The report, which is slated to be officially released in the upcoming edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that inducing hypothermia in at-risk newborns can prevent birth injuries for babies born with encephalopathy.

Physicians say that the cooling treatment had already been used for many other applications, including treatment for stroke victims and other conditions.

Researchers say that the standard of care for newborns with oxygen deficiencies now includes the cooling procedures, and the study’s findings further support the use of the innovative technology.

Children who are born with encephalopathy often die very young. Those who do manage to survive generally have problems developing motor skills, and their IQs tend to be very low. These children may also experience severe behavior problems, according to experts.

In the study, about 190 babies were put into hypothermia using the chilled blankets, which surrounded the child’s body for about 72 hours. Cool water is pumped through the blankets to lower the baby’s body temperature. The study was conducted between 2000 and 2003, with follow-up information about the child’s development being reported throughout the past decade.

Smaller hospitals rarely invest in the equipment required to perform the procedure, generally because only about 0.1 percent of babies are born with the condition. However, the relatively inexpensive equipment may become more prevalent due to the findings that have been presented through this academic project. Additional training and monitoring information will need to be provided to the smaller institutions if they choose to adopt the new treatment regimen, say experts, but it could save many lives throughout America.

Infants with encephalopathy who have received the treatment have experienced decreased frequency of seizures, and many of them have been able to forego medication altogether at a very young age.

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Chilled blankets can save babies deficient in oxygen at birth, study finds,” Patricia Anstett, May 31, 2012