A medication administered to heart attack or stroke victims to bust blood clots may help treat severe frostbite and reduce the risk of amputation, according to a study published Monday.
While treatment for other areas of critical care has grown significantly in the last 25 years, it has largely remained the same for combating frostbite, say the authors of the article published in the journal Archives of Surgery. "Today, traditional therapy consists of tissue rewarming, prolonged watchful waiting and often delayed amputation," they wrote.
"While many other areas of burns, trauma, and critical care have advanced significantly in their treatment modalities, the saying "frostbite in January, amputate in July' is still relevant today," the researchers wrote. The researchers, from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, studied the use of the anti-clotting agent tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) on six patients who suffered severe frostbite between 2001-2006.
The six, who were found to have abnormal blood flows, were given tPA within 24 hours of their injury. The study compared these patients with 25 other frostbite victims who did not receive the treatment between 1995-2006 and another who received tPA more than 24 hours after the injury. The six patients who received tPA lost six of 59 (10 percent) frostbitten toes or fingers, while the group that did not receive the treatment lost 97 of 234 (41 percent) digits, the researchers said. And while the group that did not receive tPA underwent 14 "proximal amputations" -- closer to the body than fingers and toes -- including five below the knee, the legs and arms of the six other patients were saved, they said.
"The preservation of limbs, which maximizes patient functional outcome, is perhaps the greatest benefit conferred by use of tPA in frostbite injury," they wrote. The researchers suspect the medication reverses clotting of small blood vessels that appears when frozen skin begins to thaw and restores blood flow before the injury causes permanent damage.