Therapeutic hypothermia has been practiced to some extent for centuries – all the way back to the time of Hippocrates.So why don’t more doctors follow the recommendations of the American Heart Association and other top voices in the country?

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Therapeutic hypothermia (TH) is a medical treatment that lowers a patient’s body temperature in order to help reduce injury to the brain when the heart has stopped beating from cardiac arrest. TH may also reduce injury in the setting of a stroke of heart attack (myocardial infarction).

In therapeutic hypothermia, the patient’s body temperature is lowered by about 6 degrees through application of ice packs, cooling blankets, or intravenous infusion of chilled saline. The patient is then put into a drug-induced coma for about 24 hours before being gradually warmed back to normal temperature. When a person who has experienced cardiac arrest is resuscitated without having been cooled, the rush of blood to the brain can actually cause damage.

But through use of TH, the body’s metabolism is slowed and the restoration of blood flow to the brain is less likely to be harmful.

In February of 2011, the Mayo Clinic released the results of some research on the effectiveness of TH. Researcher Alejandro Rabinstein, M.D., said at that time, “It’s important for people to know that among patients treated with therapeutic hypothermia following resuscitated cardiac arrest, up to two-thirds of them may go home with good function. We are still examining how these patients recover in terms of higher intellectual faculties, but certainly these are results that were not even conceivable prior to the application of therapeutic hypothermia.”

Therapeutic hypothermia has been practiced to some extent for centuries – all the way back to the time of Hippocrates. In recent decades, research has proved its effectiveness in improving the neurologic outcome after a cardiac arrest. In 2003, the Advanced Life Support (ALS) Task Force of the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation (ILCOR) made the following recommendations:

Unconscious adult patients with spontaneous circulation after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest should be cooled to 32°C to 34°C for 12 to 24 hours when the initial rhythm was ventricular fibrillation (VF). Such cooling may also be beneficial for other rhythms or in-hospital cardiac arrest.

In 2010, the American Heart Association stated that induced hypothermia is definitely recommended, safe, and proven in both efficacy and effectiveness.

In the United States, there are an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year, up to 38% of them caused by a heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation (VF). The survival rate of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is very poor. Less than half of victims survive to leave the hospital alive, and the cause of death is usually anoxic brain injury. Compounding the problem, brain injury and disability are common even among survivors.

If therapeutic hypothermia can help prevent brain damage due to insufficient blood flow and/or sudden restoration of blood flow, why isn’t it a part of standard cardiac arrest protocol at more hospitals in the US?

Despite its value in preventing brain damage, first-responders, emergency-room staff, and intensive-care teams have been slow to adopt TH as a routine post-resuscitation strategy. A 2005 survey showed that 71% of the critical care physicians had never used TH; 89% of cardiologists had not; and 95% of emergency medicine doctors had not tried therapeutic hypothermia after resuscitation of a patient with cardiac arrest. This, despite strong data and published guidelines recommending its use.

Failure to appropriately treat a person who has suffered cardiac arrest could be negligence, an element of medical malpractice. When a recognized and recommended treatment has been withheld from a patient, the physicians and hospital should be held accountable for the resulting damage.

The mission of Pogust Millrood is to protect those who are injured by the negligence or misconduct of others. If you or someone you love was harmed by inadequate or inappropriate treatment for a heart attack, we can help you. Call our toll-free number (888-348-6787) or use our online contact form to discuss your situation with a nationally recognized malpractice attorney.