Hypothermia after cardiac arrest: expanding the therapeutic scope

Stephen Bernard
Critical Care Medicine 2009, 37 (7 Suppl): S227-33
Therapeutic hypothermia for 12 to 24 hrs following resuscitation from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is now recommended by the American Heart Association for the treatment of neurological injury when the initial cardiac rhythm is ventricular fibrillation. However, the role of therapeutic hypothermia is uncertain when the initial cardiac rhythm is asystole or pulseless electrical activity, or when the cardiac arrest is primarily due to a noncardiac cause, such as asphyxia or drug overdose. Given that survival rate in these latter conditions is very low, it is unlikely that clinical trials will be undertaken to test the efficacy of therapeutic hypothermia in this setting because of the very large sample size that would be required to detect a significant difference in outcomes. Therefore, in patients with anoxic brain injury after nonventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest, clinicians will need to balance the possible benefit of therapeutic hypothermia with the possible side effects of this therapy. Given that the side effects of therapeutic hypothermia are generally easily managed in the critical care setting, and there is benefit for anoxic brain injury demonstrated in laboratory studies, consideration may be given to treat comatose post-cardiac arrest patients with therapeutic hypothermia in this setting. Because the induction of therapeutic hypothermia has become more feasible with the development of simple intravenous cooling techniques and specialized equipment for improved temperature control in the critical care unit, it is expected that therapeutic hypothermia will become more widely used in the management of anoxic neurological injury whatever the presenting cardiac rhythm.

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