Despite massive investment in health care research, studies have shown that about 8 per cent cardiac arrest patients live long enough to be discharged from the hospital alive. The survival rate has remained somewhat stagnant for the past 30 years. Health experts claim that the survival rate could increase significantly with the help of a process known as therapeutic hypothermia.
What is therapeutic hypothermia?
Therapeutic hypothermia was applied for the first time in the 1950s. This is a pretty simple medical procedure. In this process, the cardiac arrest patient’s body is chilled to about six degrees Fahrenheit with ice packs, cooling blankets and cold intravenous saline. The low temperature is maintained for about 24 hours. The body is then gradually warmed to restore the normal body temperature.
How therapeutic hypothermia works
When a cardiac arrest occurs, the blood circulation in the body ceases. The brain is the first organ to suffer due to cessation of oxygen supply. However, the actual trouble begins, when the heart is restarted and fresh oxygen reenters the brain. The sudden spurt in activities triggers toxic reactions, causing inflammations in the brain tissues and death of numerous brain cells. To prevent this condition, cooling the tissues appears to be the best solution. Cooling the body of cardiac patients with therapeutic hypothermia significantly reduces the risk of brain damage following a cardiac arrest. According to a study published by Cochrane Collaboration, more than 50 per cent cardiac arrest patients experienced improved brain function with hypothermia. Nearly one third cardiac patients are discharged from the hospital after the cooling therapy.
Side effects of therapeutic hypothermia
However, therapeutic hypothermia is not free from side effects. It might increase the glucose and potassium levels in the blood. The low temperature could increase the risk of infections. It might reduce the cardiac index, which is the volume of blood pumped out by the heart’s left ventricle every minute. The risk of abnormal blood clotting increases due to the cooling therapy. Chilled fluids used for lowering the body temperature might increase the risk of pulmonary edema. Therapeutic hypothermia might cause uncontrolled shivering. Despite the potential side effects of therapeutic hypothermia, health experts believe that the benefits of the procedure will outweigh its side effects.