The only treatment that can truly prevent or reverse damage from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is hypothermia therapy, also known as cooling treatment. Hypothermia therapy is known to save lives, as well as reduce permanent brain damage. Traditionally, it has been thought that hypothermia therapy must be administered within six hours of birth in order to be effective. However, recent research indicates that this may not be the case.
Laptook et al. (2017) set out to investigate whether hypothermia therapy given six to 24 hours after birth could benefit infants with HIE. They conducted a randomized clinical trial on 168 infants with moderate or severe HIE. About half were given hypothermia therapy, while the other half was maintained at a normal body temperature.
The results of their research were inconclusive. However, Bayesian analysis indicated that hypothermia therapy given six to 24 hours after the hypoxic-ischemic insult may have slightly reduced the chance of death and disability. The authors call for further research on the window of time in which hypothermia therapy can be effective, stressing that if belated administration of hypothermia therapy is even slightly better than no hypothermia therapy, that knowledge would still be profoundly important. Of course, the neuroprotective effects of cooling treatment are stronger the sooner it is given, so medical professionals should still administer it as quickly as possible.