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Cooling Therapy for Newborn Brain Injuries

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Why are Babies Given Cooling Therapy after Birth?

If your newborn was given cooling therapy after birth, you are likely flooded with questions about what this treatment is, how it works, why it is used in newborns, and what the implications are for you and your child long-term. Unfortunately, cooling therapy can be an effective treatment for a very harmful condition, known as Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

When a child is diagnosed with Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), it means they suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen during the labor or delivery process. HIE can be caused by any number of conditions and medical errors, including placental problems, umbilical cord issues, prolonged and stressful labor, and delays in ordering or performing a cesarean (C-section). If your child suffered a brain injury and was treated with cooling therapy, below provides you with a better understanding of this treatment option for your child’s HIE.

If you suspect medical mistakes may have contributed to your newborn’s injury and you have questions regarding your legal options, please contact our experienced New Jersey Birth Injury Attorneys today at 866-708-8617. A member of our team will be happy to provide you with a free case evaluation.

What is Cooling Therapy?

Cooling therapy, also referred to as therapeutic hypothermia, is a potential treatment option for newborns with moderate-to-severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This relatively recent medical advancement has been shown through numerous research studies to protect the brain from damage after oxygen deprivation. Essentially, cooling therapy is a process of cooling an infant’s body to induce mild hypothermia. Although this may sound frightening, the temperature is only slightly reduced to approximately 3-4°C below baseline temperature. This equates to 32-34 degrees Celsius or 92-94 degrees Fahrenheit. The newborn is diligently monitored throughout this process.

The efficacy of cooling therapy is dependent on following extremely stringent protocols for timeline and administration. It must be administered within no more than 6 hours after birth. Cooling therapy uses a variety of tools, such as a specific cap for the head and blanket specially suited for the cooling process. The tools involved in an infant’s cooling treatment are tailored to their specific medical situation. As for the duration of treatment, it is typically determined by the extent of the newborn’s injury. In general, cooling therapy will continue for 2 to 3 days, at which point the infant’s temperature is gradually increased.

What does Cooling a Baby do?

While the exact mechanisms that protect the brain during cooling therapy are not completely known, extensive data supports that therapeutic hypothermia is effective to reduce the risk of permanent brain damage in newborns diagnosed with HIE. By changing certain chemical processes in the brain, cooling therapy curtails some of the negative effects of oxygen deprivation, including brain cell death and swelling (edema). Cooling therapy is believed to do the following:

  • Reduce metabolic rate and loss of energy
  • Reduce cell death caused by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy
  • Decrease excitatory transmitter release (a neurotransmitter in the brain)
  • Reduce alterations in ion flux
  • Reduce swelling and vascular permeability, which can lead to edema
  • Reduce disruptions in blood-brain barrier functions, which can lead to further neural disruptions

While cooling therapy is effective in diminishing brain damage, it is not a comprehensive treatment for other potential conditions associated with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

How does Cooling Treatment affect my Child’s Prognosis?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is one of the three major causes of death in newborns. In fact, when a baby suffers from lack of oxygen to the brain during birth and HIE results, the potential that they will die or experience permanent disabilities skyrockets. Between 25 and 50% of infants with severe HIE die. Among those who survive, there is an increased incidence of seizures, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, cognitive impairments, developmental delays, and learning and processing disorders. Until recently, there was no recognized effective treatment option for newborns with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

Since the advent of cooling therapy, multiple research studies have demonstrated the long-term benefits of therapeutic hypothermia when treating newborns with HIE. A study that reviewed the results of 11 randomized controlled trials involving 1,505 infants found that cooling therapy led to a reduction in infant mortality and a decrease in major neurological and developmental disability at 18 months. In other words, infants born with HIE who are given cooling treatment are more likely to live and less likely to experience cognitive and developmental disabilities long-term.

Baby’s Brain was Injured during Birth, What are our Options?

Birth injuries can arise for any number of reasons and sadly, medical negligence is one of them. If your child was given hypothermia treatment after being diagnosed with HIE, their birth injury may have been caused by inadequate medical care. If you believe there were errors that occurred during the labor and delivery process, our birth injury attorneys are here to assist you. We advocate for birth injury victims in and around New Jersey, and will fight for the compensation your family deserves. Call us at 866-708-8617 today or fill out our online form to begin a dialogue about your specific case and your options.

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