Active Temperature Management After Cardiac Surgery and Its Effect on Postoperative Cognitive Dysfunction

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    Virginia Commonwealth University
Updated on 15 February 2022
cognitive impairment
bypass graft
heart surgery
coronary artery bypass graft


This study will assess the effect of active postoperative temperature management and its effect on the cognitive function in patients following coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery to determine if active postoperative temperature management to maintain normothermia reduces postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) in this population. Additionally, the investigators will explore differences in temperature control variability by using temperature management wraps combined with acetaminophen vs. acetaminophen alone in a pilot arm.


As one of the more common hospital-based major interventional procedures, 180,476 CABG surgeries were performed in the United States in 2016, according to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Adult Cardiac Surgery Database (STS ACSD). Of these, 23,545 operations also involved aortic or mitral valve repair or replacement. The demographic characteristics of patients undergoing cardiac surgery have changed over time, with a higher proportion of elderly patients undergoing increasingly complex procedures. The number of patients with neurological disease prior to surgery has nearly doubled from 1.4% in 2001 to nearly 2.8% as of 2010, and is rising as surgical care improves and includes more such patients .

The recognition of neurological complications associated with cardiac surgery has been report-ed widely, and neurological dysfunction can be categorized as type 1 (brain death, non-fatal stroke, and new transient ischemic attack) or type 2 (delirium and postoperative cognitive dys-function) . The incidence postoperative neurological complications, defined as "permanent stroke" by the STS ACSD, was noted in 2016 to be 1.3% following isolated CABG operations, but was noted to be higher, between 2-3% in CABG patients also receiving aortic or mitral valve surgery as part of their operation. Notably, this statistic does not capture POCD, although steps are being taken to better capture this, perhaps as a patient-reported outcome (PRO) in the future.

As early as 1955, POCD was described by Bedford in the Lancet under the designation "adverse cerebral effects of anesthesia on old people" . It can affect any age group, but does seem to dis-proportionately affect patients age 60 or older, causing difficulty in daily life and their ability to return to work . Short-term POCD, up to 6 weeks postoperatively, occurs in 20-50% of patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Longer-term POCD, defined as a subtle deterioration in cognitive function 6 months following surgery, occurs in 10-30% of cardiac surgery patients . In a longitudinal study with 8.5 years of follow-up, Steinmetz et al. found POCD to be associated with higher mortality (Cox proportional hazard ratio 1.63, 95% confidence interval 1.11-2.38; p = 0.01), earlier retirement, and greater utilization of social financial assistance . Monk et al. found that the risk of death within one year was greater among patients who had POCD when they were discharged from the hospital .

CABG and valve surgery most commonly use the extracorporeal cardiopulmonary bypass machine to perfuse the body during cardiac surgery. The aorta is cross-clamped to allow work and suturing in a near bloodless field. The major blood branches to the brain come off the aorta. When the aorta is cross-clamped, the brain undergoes a period of ischemia. While the patient is on bypass, the body and brain are kept at low temperatures to quell the effects of ischemia. Temperature elevation has been proposed to have an all-or-none response with a defined threshold beyond which the increased temperature aggravates ischemic injury. Hyperthermia leads to physiological and structural changes in the brain which include alterations of enzyme activity and damage to cytoskeletal proteins found in the brain. In addition, hyperthermia causes a release of excitatory neurotransmitters, the production of free radicals, an increase in blood-brain barrier permeability, and increase in intracellular acidosis after ischemic reperfusion all of which have all been proposed as mechanisms through which hyperthermia leads to brain tissue injury and can exacerbate ischemic brain injury .

Intraoperative temperature during cardiac surgery has long been thought to have an association with postoperative neurological outcomes, and has been well studied. In mitigating neuroinflammation and subsequent brain injury, intraoperative hypothermia as compared with normothermia has been the subject of much debate, and outcomes have varied considerably in various studies. The process of rewarming patients as they gradually disengage from cardiopulmonary bypass has been noted as another important process in modulating neuroprotection, and has al-so been studied extensively. Nearly all studies have associated a slower rate of intraoperative rewarming with a decreased incidence of POCD.

Postoperative hyperthermia is a much less well-studied phenomenon. It occurs in approximately 30% of all CABG patients , and one study has associated it with POCD, noting that patients with supra-normal temperatures in the first 24-hour postoperative period following CABG have poorer cognitive outcomes when compared to those with normal temperatures in this setting .

At our institution and many others, the current standard of care pertaining to postoperative hyperthermia management in cardiac surgery patients involves treatment with acetaminophen and room temperature if it rises to greater than or equal to 38.3 degrees.

The Altrix Precision Temperature Management System, and specifically the Rapr Round product, offers a means by which medical staff may be able to control temperature in cardiac surgery patients postoperatively, while preventing fever from occurring and in per our hypothesis, may be able to decrease short term POCD and its associated sequelae in this patient population. This temperature management system is intended for circulating temperature controlled warm or cold water via patient contact thermal transfer devices for the application of regulating human body temperature in situations where a physician or clinician with prescription privileges determines that temperature therapy is necessary or desirable.

For this study, the Rapr Round vest and leg wraps are placed around the torso and legs of the patient and adjust body temperature by circulating water through channels in the wrap. In this case the wraps will be used to maintain patient temperature in the intervention group at 36.5 +/- 0.2 degrees Celsius, or normothermia.

Condition Cardiac Surgery, Post-operative Cognitive Dysfunction, Fever
Treatment Acetaminophen, Rapr Rounds Hyper/Hypothermia Wraps
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT03947671
SponsorVirginia Commonwealth University
Last Modified on15 February 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

scheduled coronary artery bypass graft surgery patients, with or without valve surgery
patients able to give informed consent

Exclusion Criteria

age < 20 years or > 89 years
patients with unscheduled CABG +/- valve surgery (i.e. emergency surgery)
deformity or skin condition of chest or thighs that would interfere with the successful placement of Rapr Round vest and leg wraps
patients presenting to the ICU postoperatively with a fever 38.3
patients with planned intraoperative circulatory arrest
pregnant patients
patients with symptomatic cerebrovascular disease, specifically residual motor deficits, expressive or receptive aphasia from prior stroke or cerebrovascular accident
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