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Hypothermia for the treatment of infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

Neonatal encephalopathy affects 2 to 5 of every 1000 live births and represents a major cause of mortality and long-term morbidity in affected infants. Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is the major cause of encephalopathy in the neonatal period. Until recently, management of a newborn with encephalopathy has consisted largely of supportive care to restore and maintain cerebral perfusion, provide adequate gas exchange and treat seizure activity. Recent randomized controlled trials have shown that mild therapeutic hypothermia (cooling) initiated within 6 h of birth reduces death and disability in these infants. Cooling can be accomplished through whole-body cooling or selective head cooling. Meta-analysis of these trials suggests that for every six or seven infants with moderate to severe HIE who are treated with mild hypothermia, there will be one fewer infant who dies or has significant neurodevelopmental disability. In response to this evidence, major policy makers and guideline developers have recommended that cooling therapy be offered to infants with moderate to severe HIE. The dissemination of this new therapy will require improved identification of infants with HIE and regional commitment to allow these infants to be cared for in a timely manner.

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