Induced hypothermia can be used to protect the brain from post-ischemic and traumatic neurological injury. Potential clinical applications and the available evidence are discussed in a separate paper. This review focuses on the practical aspects of cooling and physiological changes induced by hypothermia, as well as the potential side effects that may develop. These side effects can be serious and, if not properly dealt with, may negate some or all of hypothermia's potential benefits. However, many of these side effects can be prevented or modified by high-quality intensive care treatment, which should include careful monitoring of fluid balance, tight control of metabolic aspects such as glucose and electrolyte levels, prevention of infectious complications and various other interventions. The speed and duration of cooling and rate of re-warming are key factors in determining whether hypothermia will be effective; however, the risk of side effects also increases with longer duration. Realizing hypothermia's full therapeutic potential will therefore require meticulous attention to the prevention and/or early treatment of side effects, as well as a basic knowledge and understanding of the underlying physiological and pathophysiological mechanisms. These and other, related issues are dealt with in this review.