Body Cooling Treatments and Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral Palsy Treatments

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a type of brain damage caused when newborns don’t receive enough blood and oxygen during labor or shortly after, is common and potentially life-threatening. Studies suggest between one and eight in every 1000 live births develop HIE. Thankfully, body cooling can reduce the risks associated with this condition. Read on to learn more about body cooling and how medical professionals are cooling infants to battle brain damage.

What Is Body Cooling?

Body cooling, or neonatal therapeutic hypothermia, is the practice of lowering a baby’s temperature by cooling down their body in a controlled way. Medical professionals place babies on a special cooling mat or wrapped in a cooling blanket for the procedure. The mats and blankets feature cold water inserts that help cool a baby’s body temperature to 92.3 degrees. The treatment usually lasts three days. Medical professionals monitor babies closely throughout the body cooling process. Newborns deprived of oxygen who show signs of brain damage are often good candidates for this treatment.

Since babies receive body cooling because they have shown signs of brain injury, the treatment is usually done in Level III or Level IV neonatal intensive care units. Some hospitals do not have the equipment for body cooling. If a baby requiring body cooling is born in a hospital that doesn’t offer this service, the hospital staff might move the baby to a hospital that does. The child will often receive an IV to reduce their body temperature during the transfer process.

Which Babies Qualify for Body Cooling?

Medical professionals conduct thorough assessments to determine which babies will receive body cooling. Babies meeting the following criteria usually qualify:

  • Apgar scores of less than five at 10 minutes after birth
  • Require resuscitation and oxygen 10 minutes after birth
  • At least 36 weeks of gestation
  • Moderate to severe encephalopathy

How Does It Treat Cerebral Palsy?

Body cooling uses our knowledge that injured people typically heal better when they’re cold. Reducing an infant’s body temperature through body cooling stops or delays the problems that can occur when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen. It gives the brain time to heal itself. With a cooling mat or cooling blanket, NICU staff may:

  • Prevent more brain cells from dying after the initial brain injury
  • Reduce brain swelling and inflammation, which can make free radicals attack healthy brain cells

Abnormal development of the brain or brain injuries can cause cerebral palsy. By reducing the impact of brain injuries sustained during childbirth, body cooling may reduce a baby’s risk of developing cerebral palsy.

What Else Can Body Cooling Treat?

Body cooling may also have other positive results for babies at risk. Studies suggest body cooling may reduce:

  • The risk of seizures
  • The chance of babies developing learning disabilities or memory deficits
  • Language delays
  • Infant mortality rates

How Effective Is Body Cooling?

Brain cells start dying within minutes of oxygen deprivation, so the sooner body cooling begins, the better. The longer the delay, the less effective body cooling will be. Medical professionals aim to start body cooling within the first six hours of a baby’s life.

A joint study by Oxford University and Imperial College London published in 2014 showed most newborns who received body cooling treatment had excellent outcomes. The study followed the progress of 325 newborns who didn’t have enough oxygen at birth. Some babies received standard care, while the others received body cooling treatment and standard care. The research examined their achievements at six or seven years of age.

Their research found 51.7% of the babies who received the body cooling treatment survived and had normal IQs. In comparison, just 39.4% of the babies who received only standard care survived and had normal IQs.

The mortality rate was roughly 30% for both groups. However, the children who received body cooling treatment had much better outcomes. They had a much smaller chance of developing cerebral palsy and other moderate to severe disabilities. They also had better motor skills than the children who only received standard care.

This research is significant because it shows the long-term positive effects of body cooling on babies. Previous studies assessed children 18 months after cooling therapy. Many cerebral palsy diagnoses occur after this time. Together the studies suggest body cooling has a long-lasting positive impact on children and their families.

Does Body Cooling Have Any Risks?

As with most medical treatments, body cooling carries some small risk. During treatment, infants receiving body cooling have a greater risk of:

  • A slightly elevated baseline heart rate
  • Needing more blood pressure support

These conditions usually resolve themselves after treatment. There do not seem to be any ongoing negative effects of body cooling.

If you believe your loved one’s cerebral palsy is the result of substandard medical care or negligence, the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs are here to help. Our friendly team is dedicated to helping families receive compensation for cerebral palsy due to medical negligence. Contact us and our staff will help you determine if you have a legal basis for a claim.



Claire Surles, RN
Reviewed by:
Claire Surles, RN
Registered Nurse

Claire comes to JJS after a 10-year career as a labor and delivery nurse. She dedicated her hospital efforts to advocating for families, providing the safest birthing environment possible as Newborn Admission Nurse at UMMC St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland. Her passion for helping those who experienced losses at any stage of gestation led to her appointment as Coordinator of the hospital’s ROOTS perinatal loss program. READ FULL BIO

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