Public Release: 

Possible new tool for first responders: An ice bag to the face

Study suggests face cooling could help prevent shutdown of cardiovascular system after blood loss

Experimental Biology 2017

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IMAGE: Study volunteers were put into a chamber that mimics the effects of blood loss. view more

Credit: Blair Johnson, University at Buffalo

A new study suggests a simple bag of ice water applied to the face could help maintain adequate blood pressure in people who have suffered significant blood loss. Blair Johnson, PhD, assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, will present his team's work at the American Physiological Society's annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, to be held April 22-26 in Chicago.

The researchers' aim is to help prevent cardiovascular decompensation, a sudden precipitous drop in blood pressure that limits oxygen delivery to the heart, brain and other vital organs. Decompensation is a significant risk after blood loss, even once the person is no longer actively bleeding.

"We believe that cooling the face could potentially be used as a quick and temporary method to prevent cardiovascular decompensation after blood loss once active bleeding has stopped," said Johnson. "We think that this technique could be used by first responders or combat medics on the battlefield to give additional time for transportation or evacuation."

As a preliminary test of the technique, the researchers recruited 10 healthy volunteers, who were put into a special chamber that mimics what happens to blood circulation when a person has lost about one-half to one liter of blood and had a tourniquet applied to stop further blood loss. The researchers applied bags of either ice water or room-temperature water to the volunteers' faces for 15 minutes while continuously measuring indicators of cardiovascular function.

Participants treated with the ice bag showed significant increases in blood pressure, suggesting that cooling the face could help bolster cardiovascular functioning after blood loss and prevent a dangerous fall in blood pressure.

Johnson cautioned that the technique is intended only for preventing cardiovascular decompensation after active bleeding has stopped, for example, by using a tourniquet. Increasing blood pressure during active bleeding could exacerbate blood loss.

After conducting more laboratory research to determine the environments and types of situations in which face cooling is most likely to be effective, the researchers hope to test the technique in a clinical trial.

Blair Johnson will present this research at 12:30-2:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, in Skyline Ballroom, McCormick Place Convention Center (poster W311 1087.5) (abstract). Contact the media team for more information or to obtain a free press pass to attend the meeting.

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About Experimental Biology 2017

Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the U.S. and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research. http://www.experimentalbiology.org #expbio

About the American Physiological Society (APS)

APS is a nonprofit organization devoted to fostering education, scientific research and dissemination of information in the physiological sciences. The Society was founded in 1887 and today represents more than 11,000 members and publishes 14 peer-reviewed journals. http://www.the-aps.org

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