Use of Cooling to Help Brain Injury in Newborns Gains Popularity

Time is of the essence when it comes to preventing severe brain injuries following oxygen deprivation. Each Illinois brain injury attorney at our firm appreciates that these injuries can accrue in any situation where oxygen is deprived to the brain because the individual is not breathing. One of the more common situations where oxygen deprivation arises is following traumatic births of infants. When complications develop during a labor, a new child may experience a prolonged period of time where oxygen does not go into the brain.

A new, but increasingly popular, way of helping these young brain injury victims is via use of induced hypothermia or cooling of the body. This treatment method is very important, because medical professionals explain that there are many challenges to reversing brain damage after it occurs. Therefore, all steps which can ensure that the damage doesn’t occur at all it is perhaps the best way to limit the total number of individuals living with debilitating brain injuries.

As discussed in The Gazette, the cooling process works best for infants when begun within six hours of the child’s birth. Though a few different methods exist-and more are being created-it usually works by stripping the child of clothing and have them lay on a mattress filled with ice water. In other formats a chilled hat or jacket may also be used. Our Illinois brain injury lawyers know this treatment has been growing steadily in popularity over the last few years. Now virtually all major hospital centers either have a hypothermia program in place or have arrangements to transfer a child to nearby facilities that do have the treatment.

Experts explain that asphyxia-the oxygen deprivation which calls for the hypothermia treatment-occurs in about one out of every thousand full term births. The rate is higher for premature births. The causes are varied, including heart development problems, ruptured placentas, umbilical cord wrapping, and similar birth complications. Some of these complications are preventable, other are not.

Doctors know that brain damage occurs in waves. In the first wave there is the initial “starvation” of oxygen to the brain. Then, when oxygen and blood supply returns there is a second wave of damage caused by the creation of harmful toxins which are produced and against which the brain cannot protect itself. Cooling works by slowing the body down and biding time so that the brain can better cope with the “toxins” that arise when the blood and oxygen flow is returned to the brain. The chilled body has a lower metabolism and less need for energy.

Several major studies are still underway to help doctors pinpoint exactly how well the cooling works and the process by which it works. Specifically, researchers are hoping to understand why some children benefit from the process better than others. Right now about 40% of the children who receive the treatment fully recover. Researchers want to know if variations of the treatment-colder, deeper, longer-might play a role in helping those children who currently do not benefit from the treatment.

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