We know immediately cooling the brain after a stroke can help preserve neurological function by reducing swelling. Making the brain chilly is also effective in saving lives and brain capabilities after heart attacks and after infant oxygen deprivation. Products like Kool-Kit are already on the market to strategically lower the temperature of important parts of the body.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is heading up a a three-and-a-half- year international study of 400 patients across 18 sites in the USA and Europe to determine if induced hypothermia in elderly stroke patients can also be effective when you add variables like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Here’s how the cooling process works:
Endovascular cooling provides rapid heat exchange and very fast cooling toward target temperature; in awake patients, endovascular cooling is generally superior to cooling blankets or ice packs in maintaining tight temperature control around the target temperature.
Cooling is achieved by inserting a special catheter into the inferior vena cava – the body’s largest vein. No fluid enters the patient; instead, an internal circulation within the catheter transfers heat out. Study participants are covered with a warming blanket to “trick” the body into feeling warm, and temperature sensors in the skin and a mild sedative help suppress shivering. In this study, body temperature will be cooled to 33 degrees C and maintained at that level for 24 hours.
At the conclusion of the cooling period, participants will be re-warmed over 12 hours.
Our bodies are meat — and we know we can’t leave meat out on the
counter at room temperature or bad things start to happen.
One of the body’s main defense mechanisms against infection or disease is to get hotter — few bodies are able to preternaturally lower temperature — and hotter is not always better when it comes to preserving damaged tissue.
Medically cooling the body is a smart way to slow time and earn back some precious seconds in retarding the damage done by a stroke and heart attack and it’s a good lesson for us to learn that sometimes heat is not always the best healer.