It sounds cold, but icing down patients who have just had a heart stoppage may boost their survival chances and prevent brain damage in those who do pull through, two new studies show.
A heart attack, near-drowning, or other misfortune that leaves a person pulseless for even a few minutes can damage the brain because halted blood flow starves brain tissues of needed oxygen. Ironically, cardiac resuscitation and the abrupt restoration of blood flow often cause a second round of damage to the brain.
Experiments in animals during the past 2 decades showed that cooling the body after a shutdown of the heart prevented much of this secondary damage. Lowering body temperature, thereby cooling the blood, slows processes in the brain that ignite harmful biochemical chain reactions.