Background: Hypothermia is protective against brain injury after asphyxiation in animal models. However, the safety and effectiveness of hypothermia in term infants with encephalopathy is uncertain.
Methods: We conducted a randomized trial of hypothermia in infants with a gestational age of at least 36 weeks who were admitted to the hospital at or before six hours of age with either severe acidosis or perinatal complications and resuscitation at birth and who had moderate or severe encephalopathy. Infants were randomly assigned to usual care (control group) or whole-body cooling to an esophageal temperature of 33.5 degrees C for 72 hours, followed by slow rewarming (hypothermia group). Neurodevelopmental outcome was assessed at 18 to 22 months of age. The primary outcome was a combined end point of death or moderate or severe disability.
Results: Of 239 eligible infants, 102 were assigned to the hypothermia group and 106 to the control group. Adverse events were similar in the two groups during the 72 hours of cooling. Primary outcome data were available for 205 infants. Death or moderate or severe disability occurred in 45 of 102 infants (44 percent) in the hypothermia group and 64 of 103 infants (62 percent) in the control group (risk ratio, 0.72; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.54 to 0.95; P=0.01). Twenty-four infants (24 percent) in the hypothermia group and 38 (37 percent) in the control group died (risk ratio, 0.68; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.44 to 1.05; P=0.08). There was no increase in major disability among survivors; the rate of cerebral palsy was 15 of 77 (19 percent) in the hypothermia group as compared with 19 of 64 (30 percent) in the control group (risk ratio, 0.68; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.38 to 1.22; P=0.20).
Conclusions: Whole-body hypothermia reduces the risk of death or disability in infants with moderate or severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.
Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.