Introduction: Guidelines for the treatment of patients in severe hypothermia and mainly in hypothermic cardiac arrest recommend the rewarming using the extracorporeal circulation (ECC). However,guidelines for the further in-hospital diagnostic and therapeutic approach of these patients, who often suffer from additional injuries—especially in avalanche casualties, are lacking. Lack of such algorithms may relevantly delay treatment and put patients at further risk. Together with a multidisciplinary team, the Emergency Department at the University Hospital in Bern, a level I trauma centre, created an algorithm for the in-hospital treatment of patients with hypothermic cardiac arrest. This algorithm primarily focuses on the decision-making process for the administration of ECC.
The bernese hypothermia algorithm: The major difference between the traditional approach, where all hypothermic patients are primarily admitted to the emergency centre, and our new algorithm is that hypothermic cardiac arrest patients without obvious signs of severe trauma are taken to the operating theatre without delay. Subsequently, the interdisciplinary team decides whether to rewarm the patient using ECC based on a standard clinical trauma assessment, serum potassium levels, core body temperature, sonographic examinations of the abdomen, pleural space, and pericardium, as well as a pelvic X-ray, if needed. During ECC, sonography is repeated and haemodynamic function as well as haemoglobin levels are regularly monitored. Standard radiological investigations according to the local multiple trauma protocol are performed only after ECC. Transfer to the intensive care unit, where mild therapeutic hypothermia is maintained for another 12 h, should not be delayed by additional X-rays for minor injuries.
Discussion: The presented algorithm is intended to facilitate in-hospital decision-making and shorten the door-to-reperfusion time for patients with hypothermic cardiac arrest. It was the result of intensive collaboration between different specialties and highlights the importance of high-quality teamwork for rare cases of severe accidental hypothermia. Information derived from the new International Hypothermia Registry will help to answer open questions and further optimize the algorithm.
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