Certain cardiac arrest patients in East Baton Rouge Parish may have a better chance of survival now that Emergency Medical Services is offering a treatment called therapeutic hypothermia.

When conducting the treatment, paramedics decrease the body’s temperature to between 90 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit using ice-cold saline water, said EMS spokesman Mark Olson.

Lower temperatures slow the body down, preventing it from going into a hyperactive state, which can cause damage and hinder survival, Olson said.

Therapeutic hypothermia “preserves function by not causing more damage,” said Dr. John Jones, co-medical director for EMS and emergency room director for Baton Rouge General Mid-City and Bluebonnet.

The treatment is “significant” and has “has certainly shown promise,” Jones said.

A recent article in an American Heart Association journal described a study in which therapeutic hypothermia was conducted on 140 cardiac arrest patients, Jones said.

More than half of those patients survived and were released from the hospital, Jones said. Almost all who were released were “mostly functionally intact,” he said.

Olson said EMS started therapeutic hypothermia in April and has conducted the treatment on six patients. Of those, four left the hospital with little to no neurological damage, he said.

“It’s very effective,” Olson said. “It saves lives and it preserves people’s brain cells.”

To be eligible for the treatment, a patient must meet certain requirements, including being at least 16 years old and having a return of spontaneous circulation, Olson said.

Patients who undergo the treatment will be in a cooled state for about 24 hours or until consciousness has returned, Jones said.

Keeping a person’s body temperature below the 98.6-degree average for much longer doesn’t do much good and could possibly cause damage, he said.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, EMS will start the cooling process on patients it handles while medical personnel at hospitals will complete the treatment, Jones said.

Jones said Baton Rouge General started using therapeutic hypothermia late last year and has conducted the procedure on about 20 patients.

Kelly Zimmerman, spokeswoman for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, said the hospital started performing the treatment in April and found it “very successful.”

“It’s increased the chance of survival and reduced the chances of disability after cardiac arrest,” she said.

Amy Delaney, a spokeswoman for Ochsner Medical Center, said the medical center has had the ability to conduct the treatment since the beginning of the year but hasn’t had a patient that meets the criteria for it.

Dr. Chuck Burnell, lead medical director of Acadian Ambulance, said his company does therapeutic hypothermia in New Orleans and San Antonio but not in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“At this point in time, the research does not support induced hypothermia use in the pre-hospital transport setting,” Burnell said. “Its utility has been proven in the hospital environment when much more sophisticated cooling techniques can be administered to the patient.”

Olson said EMS decided to start using therapeutic hypothermia after the American Heart Association began recommending the treatment in its guidelines for emergency cardiovascular care.

The treatment requires little to no training, is cheap to administer and causes little to no side effects, Olson said. Shivering is the most common side effect and it usually can be controlled with drugs, he said.