Therapeutic hypothermia and controlled normothermia in the intensive care unit: practical considerations, side effects, and cooling methods

Crit Care Med. 2009 Mar;37(3):1101-20. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e3181962ad5.


Background: Hypothermia is being used with increasing frequency to prevent or mitigate various types of neurologic injury. In addition, symptomatic fever control is becoming an increasingly accepted goal of therapy in patients with neurocritical illness. However, effectively controlling fever and inducing hypothermia poses special challenges to the intensive care unit team and others involved in the care of critically ill patients.

Objective: To discuss practical aspects and pitfalls of therapeutic temperature management in critically ill patients, and to review the currently available cooling methods.

Design: Review article.

Interventions: None.

Main results: Cooling can be divided into three distinct phases: induction, maintenance, and rewarming. Each has its own risks and management problems. A number of cooling devices that have reached the market in recent years enable reliable maintenance and slow and controlled rewarming. In the induction phase, rapid cooling rates can be achieved by combining cold fluid infusion (1500-3000 mL 4 degrees C saline or Ringer's lactate) with an invasive or surface cooling device. Rapid induction decreases the risks and consequences of short-term side effects, such as shivering and metabolic disorders. Cardiovascular effects include bradycardia and a rise in blood pressure. Hypothermia's effect on myocardial contractility is variable (depending on heart rate and filling pressure); in most patients myocardial contractility will increase, although mild diastolic dysfunction can develop in some patients. A risk of clinically significant arrhythmias occurs only if core temperature decreases below 30 degrees C. The most important long-term side effects of hypothermia are infections (usually of the respiratory tract or wounds) and bedsores.

Conclusions: Temperature management and hypothermia induction are gaining importance in critical care medicine. Intensive care unit physicians, critical care nurses, and others (emergency physicians, neurologists, and cardiologists) should be familiar with the physiologic effects, current indications, techniques, complications and practical issues of temperature management, and induced hypothermia. In experienced hands the technique is safe and highly effective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced / adverse effects*
  • Hypothermia, Induced / methods*
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic