Hypothermia for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.
Moderate to severe hypoxic-ischemic injury in newborn infants, manifested as encephalopathy immediately or within hours after birth, is associated with a high risk of either death or a lifetime with disability. In recent multicenter clinical trials, hypothermia initiated within the first 6 postnatal hours has emerged as a therapy that reduces the risk of death or impairment among infants with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Prior to hypothermia, no therapies directly targeting neonatal encephalopathy secondary to hypoxic-ischemic injury had convincing evidence of efficacy. Hypothermia therapy is now becoming increasingly available at tertiary centers. Despite the deserved enthusiasm for hypothermia, obstetric and neonatology caregivers, as well as society at large, must be reminded that in the clinical trials more than 40% of cooled infants died or survived with impairment. Although hypothermia is an evidence-based therapy, additional discoveries are needed to further improve outcome after HIE. In this article, we briefly present the epidemiology of neonatal encephalopathy due to hypoxic-ischemic injury, describe the rationale for the use of hypothermia therapy for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, and present results of the clinical trials that have demonstrated the efficacy of hypothermia. We also present findings noted during and after these trials that will guide care and direct research for this devastating problem.
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