Background: Traumatic brain injury initiates several metabolic processes that can exacerbate the injury. There is evidence that hypothermia may limit some of these deleterious metabolic responses.
Methods: In a randomized, controlled trial, we compared the effects of moderate hypothermia and normothermia in 82 patients with severe closed head injuries (a score of 3 to 7 on the Glasgow Coma Scale). The patients assigned to hypothermia were cooled to 33 degrees C a mean of 10 hours after injury, kept at 32 degrees to 33 degrees C for 24 hours, and then rewarmed. A specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation who was unaware of the treatment assignments evaluated the patients 3, 6, and 12 months later with the use of the Glasgow Outcome Scale.
Results: The demographic characteristics and causes and severity of injury were similar in the hypothermia and normothermia groups. At 12 months, 62 percent of the patients in the hypothermia group and 38 percent of those in the normothermia group had good outcomes (moderate, mild, or no disabilities). The adjusted risk ratio for a bad outcome in the hypothermia group was 0.5 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.2 to 1.2). Hypothermia did not improve the outcomes in the patients with coma scores of 3 or 4 on admission. Among the patients with scores of 5 to 7, hypothermia was associated with significantly improved outcomes at 3 and 6 months (adjusted risk ratio for a bad outcome, 0.2; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.1 to 0.9 at both intervals), although not at 12 months (risk ratio, 0.3; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.1 to 1.0).
Conclusions: Treatment with moderate hypothermia for 24 hours in patients with severe traumatic brain injury and coma scores of 5 to 7 on admission hastened neurologic recovery and may have improved the outcome.