Hospitals are increasingly using hypothermia treatment, a cooling method, to prevent newborns suspected of brain damage from suffering permanent injury, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Infants who aren’t breathing when they are born are at risk of suffering brain damage due to the lack of oxygen to that vital organ. This kind of oxygen deprivation is called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, and takes place in one to two of every 1,000 live births, The Journal reported.
It has a 20 percent mortality rate, and for survivors there is a 50 percent risk of cerebral palsy or injuries, according to The Journal. Brain cells may begin to die when a newborn is deprived of oxygen or suffers head trauma, the newspaper reported. And worse of all, these brain cells may continue to die for days, even if the infant seems to be recovering.
That’s where the cooling comes in. Doctors don’t know exactly why, but bringing a newborn’s body temperature down to 92.3 degrees for 72 hours minimizes cell damage, The Journal reported. To get the temperature down, infants are placed on a quilted blanket that is filled with a cold fluid. The babies are gradually allowed to warm up to 98.6 degrees after 72 hours, according to The Journal.
Throughout this period, the infant’s brain activity is tracked with EEGs. And after the newborn is warmed, it is administered both an MRI and EEGs to gauge its prognosis, The Journal reported.
EMTs have used cooling treatment on adult patients after they’ve suffered a heart attack, to prevent or reduce damage from when the heart fails, thereby stopping oxygen-laden blood from getting to the brain. Medical experts were clued-in to hypothermia treatment when they observed that people who were revived after almost drowning in cold water had suffered minimal, if any, brain damage.