Background: During the last two cold winters we have treated 5 severely hypothermic patients (temperature below 30 degrees C) with active external rewarming rather than with extracorporal circulation and heat exchanger.
Patients: Two patients were found in cardiac arrest, and 3 victims of mountain accidents suffered deep hypothermia without arrest. In one of them, ventricular fibrillation (VF) was converted successfully to a sinus rhythm at a core temperature of 25.9 degrees C. Both arrested patients developed an adequate hemodynamic state during resuscitation although they were at very low temperature. All the patients were warmed with a convective cover inflated with warm air of about 38 degrees C (Bair Hugger). The core temperature increased by approximately 1 degree C/h in all patients. During rewarming we observed neither an initial drop of the core temperature (afterdrop) nor cardiac arrhythmias. The outcome of all 5 patients was good without neurological sequelae.
Conclusion: We conclude that external rewarming with forced air is a feasible alternative to cardiopulmonary bypass in severely hypothermic patients with electrical activity. This method can be used even in patients with VF because defibrillation can be successfully performed in deep hypothermia. Although after-drop during external rewarming is feared, we did not observe this phenomenon. Rewarming with forced air is inexpensive, easy to perform and direct access to the patient is possible at any time. It does not require heparinisation and can be used in hospitals where they do not have cardiopulmonary bypass facilities. Thus, this method is particularly useful in situations when the hypothermic patient cannot be transferred to a major medical center.