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What Is Cooling Therapy?

Cooling therapy is used to try and slow down or prevent brain injuries in infants caused by a lack of oxygen during or near birth.

This information was compiled from government sources, educational non-profits, and medical experts.

To learn more about cooling therapy, keep reading.

What Is Cooling Therapy?

Cooling therapy, also known as therapeutic hypothermia or neonatal hypothermia, is a treatment used to try and slow or prevent brain injuries caused by lack of oxygen. A cooling blanket or head cap is placed on the infant shortly after birth. 

How Does Cooling Therapy Work?

Cooling therapy “reduces the rate of apoptosis and early necrosis, reduces cerebral metabolic rate and the release of nitric oxide and free radicals.” In other words, by lowering the baby’s body temperature, cooling therapy alters the chemical processes in the brain. 

This alteration to the infant’s brain chemistry can minimize the likelihood that the child will suffer permanent brain injury, e.g. Cerebral Palsy.

How Much Is a Baby’s Body Temperature Cooled?

Typically medical professionals will cool the body to 33C (91.4F) give or take .5 degrees. 

When Is Cooling Therapy Effective?

Studies indicate that cooling therapy is most effective when used within less than 6 hours after a hypoxic-ischemic injury. In general, treatment is more effective if it is applied closer to the injury than not. 

UPDATE: a new study in 2017 suggests that cooling therapy may be helpful within as long as 24 hours after the injury. While the study is inconclusive, the results suggest that further study should be undertaken.

How Long Does Cooling Therapy Take?

How long the therapy takes depends on the circumstances of the injury. In general, the more severe the injury, the longer the cooling therapy will be applied. It is not uncommon for medical professionals to keep an infant in cooling therapy for a period of up to two or three days. 

Is Cooling Therapy Dangerous?

There are some risks involved in cooling therapy–primarily, medical professionals will watch for a sinus bradycardia, which means a slowed heart rate. A slowed heart rate is not necessarily dangerous, but should always be watched carefully. Usually the risks of cooling therapy are minimal in comparison to the risks of not using cooling therapy. 

What Kind of Injuries Can Cooling Therapy Help?

Cooling therapy is designed to prevent or minimize the effects of brain damage. Brain injuries can result in a number of different conditions, including:

  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Developmental Impairments
  • Intellectual Disabilities
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Sensory Impairments
  • Seizures

What Facilities Have Cooling Therapy?

While equipment may vary from facility to facility, infants are typically sent to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for cooling therapy.

How Effective is Cooling Therapy?

A study in a 2012 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine found that the mortality rate was reduced to 28% compared to 44% without cooling therapy. The study also found that the combined chance of death and severe disability was reduced to 41% as opposed to 60% without cooling therapy. Since that study, cooling therapy has widely been embraced as a go-to treatment for brain injuries related to lack of oxygen during birth and delivery.

What Comes Next After Cooling Therapy?

As cooling therapy ends, the baby will slowly be re-warmed back to normal body temperatures. If the baby is warmed too quickly, the surge of additional blood flow can cause what is called a “reperfusion injury.” The treatment plan following cooling therapy will vary case by case, but at a minimum, the medical professionals will probably wish to observe and monitor the baby to watch for further signs of injury.


Shankaran, S., Pappas, A., McDonald, S., Vohr, B., Hintz, S., & Yolton, K. et al. (2012). Childhood Outcomes after Hypothermia for Neonatal Encephalopathy. New England Journal Of Medicine, 366(22), 2085-2092. doi:10.1056/nejmoa1112066

G, G. (2020). Brain cooling therapy. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 24 January 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21089736

Laptook, A. R., Shankaran, S., Tyson, J. E., Munoz, B., Bell, E. F., Goldberg, R. N., … & Das, A. (2017). Effect of therapeutic hypothermia initiated after 6 hours of age on death or disability among newborns with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: a randomized clinical trial. Jama, 318(16), 1550-1560.

About Brown Trial Firm

Getting help for a child with HIE or Cerebral Palsy can make a big difference. Because early intervention is often key to helping improve a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to act swiftly.

At the Brown Trial Firm, our birth injury attorneys can help you investigate your case, find answers to your questions, and determine whether you are entitled to compensation. 

We offer case reviews at no cost or obligation. Many birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy could have been prevented. Don’t wait, get help today. Call us toll free at +1 (866) 223-7465 or email us a [email protected].

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