Therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Most patients who suffer a cardiac arrest die after the event. Full neurological recovery occurs in only 6–23%. Until recently no specific post-arrest therapy was available to improve outcome. Application of therapeutic hypothermia (32–34°C for 12–24 h) applied after cardiac arrest could help to improve this dreadful situation. This review covers the background of and recent clinical studies into hypothermia after cardiac arrest, and gives some insights into the future of resuscitation, namely suspended animation.

Recent findings

Two randomized clinical trials of mild therapeutic hypothermia applied after successful resuscitation from cardiac arrest showed that hypothermia after cardiac arrest improves neurological outcome as well as overall mortality.

Summary

The introduction of therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest into routine intensive care practice could save thousands of lives worldwide, because only six patients must be treated to yield one additional patient with favourable neurological recovery. New developments in cooling techniques will make early induction of therapeutic hypothermia simple and convenient. The optimal duration and depth of hypothermia will be determined by future trials. Suspended animation is cooling during cardiac arrest to preserve the organism under conditions of prolonged controlled clinical death, followed by delayed resuscitation, resulting in survival without brain damage. This concept was initially introduced for trauma victims who rapidly bleed to death, and proved to be feasible in studies evaluating outcomes following exsanguination cardiac arrest in large animals. Whether the concept of suspended animation is applicable to normovolemic cardiac arrest is under investigation.

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