The role of excitotoxins in the ischemic cascade that results in ischemic neuronal death has been clearly defined and has brought about attempts to halt the progression of neurologic damage. Improved understanding of this process has allowed for the development of interventions to optimize neurologic outcome following periods of ischemia. Deep hypothermia (15-22 degrees C) has long been recognized as one method of achieving neuroprotection, but is not without serious implications and risks to the patient. Mild hypothermia (32-34 degrees C) is evolving as an alternative neuroprotective measure that has been shown to improve neurologic outcome in experimental models of ischemia and head injury, as well as in recent head injury clinical trials. It has been safely used intraoperatively in a large series of patients undergoing craniotomy. Mild hypothermia is a technique that may soon be commonly employed alone or in conjunction with other methods of neuroprotection. Nurses caring for patients undergoing this technique must be aware of the practice implications associated with this procedure and adapt their care accordingly.
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