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What you need to know about neonatal whole body cooling

Neonatal whole body cooling sounds like a horrifying treatment, but it's one that can help save a child's life and protect his or her brain. The treatment is used on infants who experience hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy at birth. The goal is to slow the metabolism and reduce the risk of disability and death for the baby.

If the name above doesn't slide off the tongue, you should know that neonatal whole body cooling is also known as therapeutic hypothermia. While most people are warned of the dangers of hypothermia, it actually provides many health benefits in monitored settings.

Therapeutic hypothermia might sound incredibly dangerous, but thanks to advances in medicine, it's a strictly monitored process that helps prevent brain damage from spreading. It's a life-saving treatment for some children and helps prevent disabilities in others. With early treatment, your child has the best chance of moving forward and healing.

Therapeutic hypothermia protects your child's brain

When the body is in a cooled state, its metabolic processes slow. This helps slow down and decrease the extent of an injury caused by hypoxia. Babies placed into therapeutic hypothermia are wrapped with a cooling blanket until the body reaches 92 degrees Fahrenheit. From there, the treatment only takes three days. There is constant monitoring.

What should you expect during the treatment?

In such a cold state, it's not unusual for a baby to need a breathing machine or medications to prevent seizures or drops in blood pressure. Babies receive IV fluids throughout the treatment to make sure they don't go without water or nutrients.

During the treatment, it's also possible for other imaging tests to be performed. For example, the doctor might order an EEG to look at the activity in the brain, an MRI to view the damage caused by HIE or others. It's normal to see a child intubated or with umbilical lines during this treatment.

The good thing about this process is that the child is slowly brought back to a normal body temperature once the risk of damage from HIE passes. Your child will need continuing medical care moving forward, but hopefully, thanks to this process, the extent of the damage caused by hypoxia could be restricted.

Neonatal whole body cooling isn't for every condition, but when the body is in shock from a lack of oxygen, this treatment has a potential to work wonders. With close monitoring, it's a safe, effective treatment.

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