Not many people have heard of the treatment known as neonatal therapeutic hypothermia. This is a very specific treatment that is very seldom used because there are only a few very rare situations where this treatment is actually needed. When an infant is born and immediately is suffering from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, then that’s the only time you bring out neonatal therapeutic hypothermia as an emergency treatment to attempt to not only save the baby’s life, but also to prevent as much brain damage as possible.
What Is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) refers to a very specific type of brain damage infants suffer when their brains aren’t receiving enough blood and oxygen right after birth. This is an extremely dangerous condition and must be treated immediately upon even a possible diagnosis.
The Florida Neonatal Neurologic Network estimates that out of 1,000 full-term births that take place, 20 of those babies will be affected, while over 60% of all live births that are premature will have the same issue.
The low blood flow can lead to brain damage, severe injury due to a lack of blood flow to other vital organs, asphyxia, and even death. HIE is considered a brain injury and is also believed to be the top cause of fatalities among infants in the United States.
What Is Neonatal Therapeutic Hypothermia?
This is the only treatment that has been clinically proven to help increase the chance of survival and reduce the chance of brain damage or at least the severity of brain damage. This treatment is put into effect immediately after identifying HIE with a newborn as an issue.
This treatment actually causes “brain hypothermia.” This is done by cooling a baby to around 33 degrees Celsius, which is about 91.4 Fahrenheit. This cooling takes place for a full three days after birth. Many studies have shown that cold stops brain damage and can promote healing, and, up to this point, not only is neonatal therapeutic hypothermia the only known treatment for HIE, it is also currently the only single medical intervention that reduces brain damage, reduces the level of disability resulting from brain damage, and strongly improves an infant’s chance of survival.
This treatment is the only preventative treatment early on that gives a chance of reducing brain injury to prevent cerebral palsy, of which HIE is the source 20% of the the time.
Risks and Potential Side Effects
There are still major risks with this treatment. Dropping a body temperature to that level for several days is never 100% safe. These infants will be constantly monitored, and while neonatal therapeutic hypothermia is the best (and only proven) effective treatment for HIE, it’s important to realize that doesn’t mean every infant will survive. When you need even controlled hypothermia to fight a severe issue with blood flow and brain damage, then you know that the infant is in for a serious fight.
The chances of the infant still passing away are fairly high – this is a serious process, but it is never put into play unless a diagnosis of HIE is made, which is far more dangerous for the infant.
These are major procedures, and it’s hard to bring up a legal case for malpractice unless a severely missed diagnosis takes place. When there is only one potential treatment for increasing the odds of life, reducing brain damage, and providing the best possible post-birth life for the child, then this is the treatment that is going to be used.