Cooling Therapy May Help Infants Battle Brain Damage

Birth Injury, Cerebral Palsy Treatments, Head Cooling

newborn holding thermometer
The emotional distress that accompanies a birth injury is incomparable. When a child is injured during birth, what should have been the most exciting day of the parents’ life instead likely resulted in feelings of fear, frustration and sadness. It may seem like a dark future ahead, as parents struggle to readjust their plans and dreams for their baby’s future.

Fortunately, as science and medicine evolve, so too do the treatments for illnesses and injuries — even for something as serious as a brain damage birth injury. Cooling therapy is one of those treatments; it is used to help newborns who experienced severe oxygen deficiency during the birth process and developed birth asphyxia or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy as a result. Here’s why doctors and parents alike are finding cooling therapy so reassuring for helping babies battle brain damage.

How Does Cooling Infants to Battle Brain Damage Work?

Known in the medical community as neonatal therapeutic hypothermia, cooling therapy is a somewhat new treatment option for babies who have experienced oxygen deprivation during childbirth. Cooling therapy involves lowering a newborn’s body temperature in order to minimize the risk of severe brain damage and decrease disease progression. The treatment involves placing the newborn on a waterproof blanket that contains cool circulating water. This technique lowers the baby’s temperature to as low as 91.4° F, where it remains for 72 hours. In the meantime, the infant is closely monitored until doctors allow his or her body temperature to return to normal.

The technique is based on a pattern that physicians have historically observed in the medical field, whereby patients have healed more easily if they were injured while cold or in extremely cold weather. So how does it help an infant battle brain damage? A lower core temperature slows down metabolic processes, and scientists and physicians theorize that this alters the time frame during which body and/or brain damage can occur.

Because brain cells begin to die within minutes of losing oxygen, it’s important that treatment begin as soon as possible. In fact, many neonatal intensive care units use cooling therapy for full-term infants who show signs of brain dysfunction resulting from low oxygen. However, you should note that many institutions will not begin cooling therapy until six hours after birth because they believe that otherwise, it is not effective.

Is Cooling Therapy for Newborns Safe?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the first known use of cooling therapy for medical purposes was about 5,000 years ago — but it wasn’t until 2002 that it was widely used in hospitals. Because it’s a relatively new treatment in practice, additional research and studies are still ongoing. As a result, it’s important to discuss the possibility of neonatal therapeutic hypothermia with your physician, especially if you’re experiencing a difficult pregnancy.

Still, the expert opinion is that clinical trials for cooling therapy have been promising. An NIH-supported study in 2005 discovered that when cooling therapy was administered to newborns with birth asphyxia, it reduced the risk of death and disability by age 18 to 22 months. The same study followed the children to assess the long-term effects of cooling therapy and found that, by age 6–7 years, they had a significantly lower mortality rate (28%) than did the children who had not received neonatal therapeutic hypothermia as babies (44%).

The study also calculated the number of deaths along with cases of severe disability — involving motor function, cognitive ability and vision — as a combined outcome. This also proved in favor of the children who had received cooling therapy as babies, with 41% experiencing death or disability as compared to 60% of children who had not received the treatment as newborns. This study seems to confirm that children who received the treatment were more likely to survive, and that they were no more likely to have a disability than the children in the untreated group, which illustrates a positive long-term neurological outcome.

When your child is at risk of brain damage, it’s important that doctors respond quickly and appropriately. If you suspect that your child has suffered as the result of medical error, contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs to discuss your potential case. We know that you’re experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotional trauma, and we want to help make the road to recovery as simple as possible. We’re here by your side to offer the educational and legal resources you need to help improve your child’s quality of life.

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