Therapeutic hypothermia involves decreasing the body temperature to protect the brain when blood flow is reduced from a cardiac arrest, when the heart stops pumping and the patient has no pulse. Previous studies have shown the therapy effective on patients with so-called `shockable' heart rhythms like ventricular fibrillation.
Every year, 530,000 Americans suffer cardiac arrest and 300,000 of them happen outside of a hospital. Now a new research by Dr. Sarah Perman at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has revealed that survivors of cardiac arrest who remain in comas have better survival and neurological outcomes when their body temperatures are lowered.
Dr. Perman, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said, "Prior to our study, there was minimal data to support the use of this treatment on patients with nonshockable rhythms. As a result, the therapy was not widely used with these patients."
Physicians who use the technique employ cooling wraps to drop the patients' temperature from approximately 37 degrees Celsius to 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 degrees F). The therapy has shown to reduce damage to the brain following a cardiac arrest, though scientists continue to investigate why this occurs.
Landmark trials in 2002 studying shockable patients found 49 percent of those who received therapeutic hypothermia had good neurological outcomes as opposed to 26% who did not receive the treatment. Another trial showed 55% of patients with good neurological outcome against 39% who didn't have the therapy.
Dr. Perman said, "Neurologic injury after cardiac arrest is devastating. We have one chance to give some form of neuroprotection, and that's immediately after the arrest. Therapeutic hypothermia should be more widely used in comatose patients to protect neurological function. We know that patients benefit from this therapy. The importance of delivering meaningful research from the laboratory directly to the patient. Therefore, one of our next challenges is to tailor the hypothermia treatment to the patient's specific injury in order to improve outcomes further."
The study was published in the Circulation.