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For decades, brain cooling has been used as a method to reduce brain inflammation and damage in patients who sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, it has also been considered a controversial treatment within the medical community. Although there have been multiple prior studies conducted on brain cooling, the results often contradicted each other and no definitive claims have previously been made about the effectiveness of this treatment.

The effectiveness of the treatment was at the center of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that definitively concluded brain cooling, or hypothermia, is ineffective as a treatment method for TBI and should no longer be used for this purpose. During the brain cooling treatment, a patient’s body temperature is cooled to between 91.4 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit depending on whether or not doctors have bleeding concerns. It is completed through the administering of a cold saline to the patient through an IV followed by placement in cold wraps for three to seven days. Thus, such treatment can be traumatic to the body in its own right, and the costly and time-consuming treatment can pose serious risks including increased bleeding, infection, and decreased blood pressure and heart rate.

This research is particularly groundbreaking due to the high global prevalence of TBI; every year, 50 to 60 million people worldwide suffer from a TBI, which can present a wide variety of symptoms including cognitive deficits such as language processing and processing speed, speech and language difficulty, decrease or loss in vision, hearing, smelling or taste, seizures, physical and mental changes, and death.

In the study, researchers from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, France, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia joined together to execute a comprehensive study that analyzes the neurological outcomes of 511 TBI patients who received treatment at some point within a seven-year span that began in 2010. Patients were divided into two relatively even groups: individuals who had received prompt hypothermia treatment and individuals who never received the cooling therapy. Six months after treatment, 48.8 percent of brain cooling patients and 49.1 percent of non-cooling patients were able to live independently with minimal debilitating side effects from TBI—ultimately showing little benefit to the treatment.

While researchers continue to fine-tune medical treatment methods used on TBI patients, it is extremely important for individuals to know the symptoms and to seek out medical attention immediately if such an injury is suspected.

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