Cooling Therapy May Reduce Pediatric Epilepsy Risk

Newborns administered therapeutic hypothermia were much less likely to develop epilepsy.

Newborns who have perinatal asphyxia may experience a permanent brain injury that can result in cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and other conditions. These babies may be at risk of poor cognition, poor quality of life, and diminished life expectancy.

The Seattle Children’s Hospital reports that perinatal asphyxia may occur before, during, or after birth, and can happen without the knowledge of caregivers. Treating the condition promptly is important to prevent adverse events.

New findings from a study published by Epilepsia suggests that cooling therapy—or therapeutic hypothermia—may reduce the risk of children developing epilepsy resulting from perinatal asphyxia.

For 8 years, the team of researchers followed 165 newborns to determine how many children were diagnosed with epilepsy and how many cases were severe enough to require antiepileptic treatment at ages 2, 4, and 8.

The authors discovered that babies born after 2007 who received therapeutic hypothermia were much less likely to develop epilepsy than before the therapy was implemented, according to the study.

At 2 years, 7% of children were diagnosed with epilepsy and 2% were treated with antiepileptic drugs. Between ages 4 and 8, additional children in the study developed epilepsy with 7% receiving medication therapy, according to the study.

However, the authors note that the number of children requiring antiepileptic drugs was significantly lower compared with before therapeutic hypothermia was implemented as a standard of care.

Before cooling therapy was standard procedure, 32% of patients died and 34% experienced moderate-to-severe disability, according to the study.

In the study, the authors discovered that out of patients who underwent therapeutic hypothermia, only 11% of patients died and 23% had a disability. Notably, many of the children with cerebral palsy had a mild case, with 7 out of 10 able to walk.

For children with less severe perinatal asphyxia, therapeutic hypothermia was observed to increase the number of healthy patients surviving the condition. The authors also discovered that there were very few children requiring antiepileptic drugs, according to the study.

Overall, these findings suggest that therapeutic hypothermia is beneficial to newborns who experienced perinatal hypothermia and may prevent long-term damage.

“Even if we account for a lesser severity of perinatal asphyxia, our research has shown that therapeutic hypothermia reduces the number of children who develop epilepsy later in childhood,” said lead researcher Marianne Thoresen, MD, PhD. “Cooling treatment also reduces the number and severity of cerebral palsy and increases the number of patients who survive normally.”