Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Will the Upcoming Pennsylvania Paramedic Protocols Eliminate Our Use of Not-So-Therapeutic Hypothermia?

Will Pennsylvania continue its trend of rejecting treatments that do not work and medicine that is not medicine?

One place to get a clear indication is the Post-resuscitation Care protocol, which has encouraged testing the ice waters of therapeutic hypothermia as an optional treatment that requires medical command orders. Backing away from further use of cold IV fluid for no known benefit to patients should be easy to do without political backlash from those more interested in doing something than in protecting patients from treatment for the sake of treatment.

Possible Medical Command Orders:

A. In adult patient, cold (4º C) NSS bolus of 20-30 mL/kg, if available, may be ordered if patient not following commands after ROSC from nontraumatic cardiac arrest.[1]


But wait.

      I know that therapeutic hypothermia works.

That is misleading. There is plenty of evidence that cooling patients in the hospital improves outcomes, but for prehospital patients the use of cold IV fluids has only been shown to improve outcomes for asystole/PEA (Pulseless Electrical Activity) patients and only in one study.[2]

For the patients most likely to survive cardiac arrest, the initial rhythm is V Fib (Ventricular Fibrillation). For these patients we need to stop the ice water infusions. Prehospital cold IV fluids following resuscitation of V Fib patients has been studied to death – more deaths in the treatment groups than in the no treatment groups. There has been no evidence of any benefit from IV ice water.[3],[4],[5]

Image credit.

This method of administration would probably be better for V Fib patients than IV ice water, because the adverse effects of IV ice water appear to be due to fluid overload.

I do not mean that prehospital therapeutic hypothermia is always a bad idea for V Fib patients – only that we need to find a way that is less harmful than dumping ice water into these recently dead patients for no benefit.

Click on image to make it larger.[3]

First, do no harm.

If the treatment is not beneficial, there is no good reason to expose patients to the adverse effects of the treatment for no known benefit.

Will we stop making excuses for endangering our patients with treatments that do not work?

Science teaches us to learn from our mistakes, while human nature encourages us to make excuses and continue to make the mistakes. Will we make the mistake of continuing to dump cold ice water into these recently dead patients for no good reason?


[1] Post-Resuscitation Care
Pennsylvania Statewide ALS Protocols 2013
pp. 34-36 – 3080 – ALS – Adult/Peds
Protocols in PDF Download format.

[2] Induction of prehospital therapeutic hypothermia after resuscitation from nonventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest*.
Bernard SA, Smith K, Cameron P, Masci K, Taylor DM, Cooper DJ, Kelly AM, Silvester W; Rapid Infusion of Cold Hartmanns Investigators.
Crit Care Med. 2012 Mar;40(3):747-53. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e3182377038.
PMID: 22020244 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

[3] Induction of therapeutic hypothermia by paramedics after resuscitation from out-of-hospital ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest: a randomized controlled trial.
Bernard SA, Smith K, Cameron P, Masci K, Taylor DM, Cooper DJ, Kelly AM, Silvester W; Rapid Infusion of Cold Hartmanns (RICH) Investigators.
Circulation. 2010 Aug 17;122(7):737-42. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.906859. Epub 2010 Aug 2.
PMID: 20679551 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from Circulation.

[4] Effect of Prehospital Induction of Mild Hypothermia on Survival and Neurological Status Among Adults With Cardiac Arrest: A Randomized Clinical Trial.
Kim F, Nichol G, Maynard C, Hallstrom A, Kudenchuk PJ, Rea T, Copass MK, Carlbom D, Deem S, Longstreth WT Jr, Olsufka M, Cobb LA.
JAMA. 2013 Nov 17. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.282173. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 24240712 [PubMed – as supplied by publisher]

Free Full Text from JAMA.

[5] Targeted temperature management at 33°C versus 36°C after cardiac arrest.
Nielsen N, Wetterslev J, Cronberg T, Erlinge D, Gasche Y, Hassager C, Horn J, Hovdenes J, Kjaergaard J, Kuiper M, Pellis T, Stammet P, Wanscher M, Wise MP, Åneman A, Al-Subaie N, Boesgaard S, Bro-Jeppesen J, Brunetti I, Bugge JF, Hingston CD, Juffermans NP, Koopmans M, Køber L, Langørgen J, Lilja G, Møller JE, Rundgren M, Rylander C, Smid O, Werer C, Winkel P, Friberg H; TTM Trial Investigators.
N Engl J Med. 2013 Dec 5;369(23):2197-206. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1310519. Epub 2013 Nov 17.
PMID:24237006[PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Free Full Text from NEJM.