Therapeutic Hypothermia

Therapeutic hypothermia can be used after cardiac arrest to lower the body temperature after the heart starts beating again.

The heartbeat is controlled by electrical signals. A faulty signal can trigger an electrical malfunction in the heart, resulting in an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). If the heart’s pumping action is disrupted, the brain, lungs and other vital organs will not receive an adequate supply of oxygen-rich blood, and the patient will typically lose consciousness within seconds.

Known as sudden cardiac arrest, this life-threatening condition can occur after a heart attack or due to a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) or heart failure. With immediate treatment, cardiac arrest can be reversed. Therefore, it is vital to use an automated external defibrillator or perform CPR until professional emergency medical providers arrive.

Why Is Therapeutic Hypothermia Helpful After Cardiac Arrest?

During cardiac arrest, the lack of blood flow to the brain and other organs can cause lasting damage, and the patient may not regain consciousness. By lowering the patient’s body temperature as soon as the heartbeat returns, therapeutic hypothermia can help prevent brain damage and increase the likelihood of a full recovery.

Experts believe therapeutic hypothermia can be effective for patients who are resuscitated after cardiac arrest for two possible reasons. Specifically, lowering the body temperature can:

  • Slow down chemical reactions in the body
  • Reduce inflammation in the brain

How Is Therapeutic Hypothermia Administered?

While in an intensive care unit (ICU), the patient is given medication to help him or her relax. Throughout the therapeutic hypothermia procedure, which takes place over approximately 24 hours, the healthcare team will monitor the patient’s internal body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs. To cool the patient’s body down as quickly as possible, a provider may apply cooling blankets or ice packs or administer chilled fluids through an intravenous (IV) line. When the procedure is complete, the patient’s body will be gradually warmed over the course of several hours.

What to Expect After Therapeutic Hypothermia

Over the next few days, the healthcare team will monitor the patient’s response to the therapeutic hypothermia and evaluate whether the cardiac arrest affected his or her brain or other vital organs. Follow-up care can vary depending on the cause of the cardiac arrest and the extent of any resulting damage.

A nationally recognized leader in the treatment of cardiovascular conditions, Tampa General Hospital was named one of America’s Best Hospitals for cardiology and heart surgery by U.S. News & World Report. We’re proud to offer the very latest treatment options, including therapeutic hypothermia. Our cardiac rehabilitation services are designed to improve cardiovascular fitness, function and knowledge in a safe and positive way for people with heart disease or who have had cardiac surgery.