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Therapeutic Hypothermia


What is therapeutic hypothermia?

Therapeutic hypothermia is a procedure used to cool a person's body to a temperature that is lower than normal. The procedure is done after a cardiac arrest (when the heart stops) that happens outside of a healthcare setting. The unconscious person is cooled in the hospital after his breathing and heartbeat start again.

Why is therapeutic hypothermia done?

Therapeutic hypothermia is done to reduce the risk of brain swelling, blood clots, and seizures after cardiac arrest. The procedure may help the person survive. He may be able to leave the hospital for rehabilitation or recover at home.

How is therapeutic hypothermia done?

The therapeutic hypothermia process often begins with an IV (intravenous) of cold liquid to cool the person's body quickly. Caregivers keep the body temperature low with ice packs, icy cold wet towels, or fans. The ice packs are placed on the person's neck, armpits, torso, and groin. His body is slowly rewarmed 12 to 24 hours later.

What happens during therapeutic hypothermia?

  • Caregivers will check the person's blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate throughout the process. Monitors in the person's bladder, central vein, or esophagus measure body temperature at all times. Caregivers will watch the person's temperature closely so it does not go too low or too high.
  • The person will start to shiver when the procedure begins. Shivering increases body temperature and decreases the benefits of therapeutic hypothermia. Caregivers will use medicines to stop the person from shivering. A special blanket that moves cold air around the person may also be used to reduce shivering.

What are the risks of therapeutic hypothermia?

  • Effects of medicines given to prevent shivering may last longer than expected. Therapeutic hypothermia may cool the person too fast or to a temperature that is too low. Cooling may cause the person's blood pressure to become too high or too low. This can cause the heart to beat slowly or out of rhythm. Fluid loss from cooling can lead to dehydration or electrolyte (body chemical) levels that are out of balance. The medicines may prevent caregivers from realizing the person is having a seizure.
  • Cardiac arrest is life-threatening. Low blood pressure, seizures, coma, or brain death cannot always be prevented, even with therapeutic hypothermia treatment.

Care Agreement

The person has the right to help plan his care. He must learn about his health condition and how it may be treated. The person should discuss treatment options with his caregivers to decide what care he wants to receive. He always has the right to refuse treatment.The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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