Background: Newborn animal and human pilot studies suggest that mild hypothermia following peripartum hypoxia-ischaemia in newborn infants may reduce neurological sequelae, without adverse effects.
Objectives: To determine whether therapeutic hypothermia in encephalopathic asphyxiated newborn infants reduces mortality and long-term neurodevelopmental disability, without clinically important side effects.
Search strategy: The standard search strategy of the Neonatal Review Group as outlined in the Cochrane Library (Issue 2, 2003) was used. Randomised controlled trials evaluating therapeutic hypothermia in term newborns with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy were identified by searching the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library Issue Issue 2, 2003), MEDLINE (1966 to July 2003), previous reviews including cross-references, abstracts, conferences, symposia proceedings, expert informants and journal hand searching.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing the use of therapeutic hypothermia with normothermia in encephalopathic newborn infants with evidence of peripartum asphyxia and without recognisable major congenital anomalies were included. The primary outcome measure was death or long-term major neurodevelopmental disability. Other outcomes included adverse effects of cooling and 'early' indicators of neurodevelopmental outcome.
Data collection and analysis: Three reviewers independently selected, assessed the quality of and extracted data from the included studies. Authors were contacted for further information. Meta-analyses were performed using relative risk and risk difference for dichotomous data, and weighted mean difference for continuous data with 95% confidence intervals.
Main results: Two randomised controlled trials were included in this review, comprising 50 term infants with moderate/ severe encephalopathy and evidence of intrapartum asphyxia. There was no significant effect of therapeutic hypothermia on the combined outcome of death or major neurodevelopmental disability in survivors followed. No adverse effects of hypothermia on short term medical outcomes or on some 'early' indicators of neurodevelopmental outcome were detected.
Reviewer's conclusions: Although two small randomised controlled trials demonstrated neither evidence of benefit or harm, current evidence is inadequate to assess either safety or efficacy of therapeutic hypothermia in newborn infants with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy. Therapeutic hypothermia for encephalopathic asphyxiated newborn infants should be further evaluated in well designed randomised controlled trials.