Therapeutic Hypothermia Now Standard Treatment for Some Birth Injuries

Therapeutic Hypothermia Now Standard Treatment for Some Birth Injuries

Therapeutic Hypothermia Now Standard Treatment for Some Birth Injuries

Therapeutic Hypothermia Now Standard Treatment for Some Birth Injuries

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Medical Malpractice Attorney. Hypothermia – the mere mention of the word may bring to mind images of freezing climates, frostbitten fingers, and deadly-low body temperatures. Indeed, most individuals grow up fearing hypothermia for the many life-threatening dangers it can present. When a person’s body temperature dips below normal (the very definition of hypothermia), medical professionals tell us that it is important to bring the temperature back up to normal or else the person risks serious, even fatal injuries. Because this is the understanding most people have of hypothermia, it may come as a surprise that hypothermia can be considered “therapeutic” in the case of some newborn infants who have suffered birth-related injuries.

Therapeutic Hypothermia Defined

Therapeutic hypothermia is the controlled cooling of a newborn infant’s body temperature followed by the safe and gradual rewarming of the body, all done in a medical setting. The child’s body temperature is lowered by approximately four to six degrees Fahrenheit off normal (so approximately 92 to 94 degrees Fahrenheit) by cooling the infant’s head or entire body. The newborn remains at a subnormal temperature for approximately 72 hours before it is gradually rewarmed to a normal body temperature.

Conditions Treated by Therapeutic Hypothermia

Therapeutic hypothermia has been shown to be effective in treating encephalopathy brought about as the result of birth asphyxia. Birth asphyxia occurs when the newborn infant does not receive a sufficient supply of oxygen during the birth process. This can be due to a variety of factors: an umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck, a delivery that takes too long, or the baby’s position in the womb and birth canal can all result in a reduced supply of oxygen. Encephalopathy can result from birth asphyxia: it is a condition of decreased neurological function in a newborn infant and is typically manifested by decreased levels of consciousness, seizures, and difficulty in breathing independently. When applied according to accepted guidelines, therapeutic hypothermia has been shown to reduce the severity of injuries after a newborn has suffered birth asphyxia.

Guidelines for Using Therapeutic Hypothermia

Not every newborn who suffers from birth asphyxia and resulting encephalopathy can be treated using therapeutic hypothermia. In particular, therapeutic hypothermia can only be used for newborns who are 36 weeks of age or greater at the time of delivery: newborns who are “premature” are not able to receive therapeutic hypothermia treatments. There are other medical tests that ought to be conducted to determine if the newborn is a good candidate for therapeutic hypothermia. Ideally, any therapeutic hypothermia treatments should be administered within six hours of delivery.

Not all hospitals in California are presently equipped with the equipment necessary to administer therapeutic hypothermia treatments. For children born at a facility not equipped to administer such treatments but who meet the guidelines for receiving these treatments, a transfer to an appropriately-equipped hospital should be considered.

Legal Liability for Improper Therapeutic Hypothermia Treatments

Like any other medical procedure, doctors, medical professionals, and hospitals may be held liable in a medical malpractice suit for certain errors surrounding therapeutic hypothermia treatments. Some potential errors that can create liability include:

  • Failure to assess or consider hypothermia treatments: Since therapeutic hypothermia is now considered a standard treatment in some cases, it could be considered an error in judgment for a doctor to fail to consider treating a qualifying child with therapeutic hypothermia treatments without a valid and justifiable reason for doing so.
  • Failure to timely start treatments: To receive maximum benefit from treatments, therapeutic hypothermia treatments should begin to be administered within six hours of delivery. Medical professionals who unjustifiably delay the beginning of treatment may be found to have committed an act of malpractice.
  • Failure to properly administer treatments: Staff who are not properly trained on how to administer therapeutic hypothermia treatments may end up causing additional injury to the newborn. A hospital who does not properly train or supervise its staff in administering these treatments can be held liable for the resulting injuries.

As with any alleged act of medical malpractice, it is advisable to have your case evaluated by an experienced medical malpractice attorney and to pursue your claim with this attorney’s assistance.

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Ed Smith, is a Sacramento Medical Malpractice Attorney. If you think your injuries were the result of medical malpractice, call Ed today at (916) 921-6400 for free, friendly advice.  Elsewhere, call  toll free at (800) 404-5400.

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