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Friday, 3 August, 2001, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
'Ice baths' help stroke patients
Cooling the brain after stroke may limit damage
Cooling the brain after stroke may limit damage
Cooling stroke patients may limit long term damage, say scientists.

US research suggests lowering the body temperature may limit the damage done to fragile brain tissue by high-tech drugs given to eradicate clots and restart the blood flow.

It may also reduce initial tissue damage caused by the stroke itself.

The technique, detailed in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, works by wrapping patients in cooling blankets and ice water or alcohol baths.

UK experts said care for stroke patients in this country was "not geared up" either to provide clot-busting drugs or cooling.


We've a long way to go

Eoin Redahan,
Stroke Association
Each year, over 100,000 people in England and Wales have a first stroke.

Around 60,000 die, making stroke the third most common cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

It is the largest single cause of disability, affecting 30,000 people at any one time.

Damage

The US scientists say the clot-busting drugs can cause reperfusion damage, which occurs when the rush of the restored blood flow hits already damaged tissue.

Previous experiments have shown lowering the body temperature can lessen the negative effects of the treatment.

Doctors from the Neurological Intensive Care Program at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation say initial results show inducing mild hypothermia in patients is both possible and safe.

The researchers looked at patients who suffered severe strokes caused by blood clots affecting the middle cerebral artery (MCA).

When a stroke affects the MCA, it usually causes severe paralysis down one side of the body.

The patients had also been given clot-busting drugs, but shown little or no improvement.

Cooling

Ten patients who were cooled were compared with nine who were not.

Those who were cooled were given drugs to paralyse them to prevent shivering. They were also sedated and had breathing tubes inserted.

It took around three and a half hours for the patients to achieve hypothermia, which was defined as 32C for 12 to 72 hours.

Dr Derek Kreiger, who jointly led the research, said: "Hypothermia was well tolerated by most patients and there were no significant differences in minor or critical complications between the two groups."

Cooled patients had lower levels of disability when checked at three months.

On a scale of nought (normal) to six (death), cooled patients averaged 3.1 compared to 4.2 in the non-cooled group.

Three of the cooled patients had died, compared to two of the nine of the other group.

Eoin Redahan of the Stroke Association told BBC News Online: "Unfortunately the care of stroke patients in the UK is not geared up to introduce the American clot busting agents and even less likely to introduce an experimental lowering of brain temperatures.

"We've a long way to go but hopefully UK stroke care will improve in the next 2-3 years with the introduction of the stroke section of the NSF for older people," said

See also:

22 Jul 01 | Health
'Treatment for stroke' hope
16 Jul 01 | Health
'My child's battle after stroke'
18 May 01 | Health
Stroke research warning
06 Jan 01 | Health
Alcohol 'cuts strokes in women'
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