Application of therapeutic hypothermia in the ICU: opportunities and pitfalls of a promising treatment modality. Part 1: Indications and evidence

Intensive Care Med. 2004 Apr;30(4):556-75. doi: 10.1007/s00134-003-2152-x. Epub 2004 Feb 6.


Objective: Hypothermia has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times. This paper reviews the current potential clinical applications for mild hypothermia (32-35 degrees C).

Design and setting: Induced hypothermia is used mostly to prevent or attenuate neurological injury, and has been used to provide neuroprotection in traumatic brain injury, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, stroke, and various other disorders. The evidence for each of these applications is discussed, and the mechanisms underlying potential neuroprotective effects are reviewed. Some of this evidence comes from animal models, and a brief overview of these models and their limitations is included in this review.

Results: The duration of cooling and speed of re-warming appear to be key factors in determining whether hypothermia will be effective in preventing or mitigating neurological injury. Some other potential usages of hypothermia, such as its use in the peri-operative setting and its application to mitigate cardiac injury following ischemia and reperfusion, are also discussed.

Conclusions: Although induced hypothermia appears to be a highly promising treatment, it should be emphasized that it is associated with a number of potentially serious side effects, which may negate some or all of its potential benefits. Prevention and/or early treatment of these complications are the key to successful use of hypothermia in clinical practice. These side effects, as well as various physiological changes induced by cooling, are discussed in a separate review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced / standards*
  • Hypoxia, Brain / prevention & control
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / therapy
  • Models, Animal
  • Reperfusion Injury / prevention & control
  • Stroke / therapy
  • Trauma, Nervous System / prevention & control