BACKGROUND: Fever in critically ill patients is often treated with antipyretics or physical cooling methods. Although fever is a host defense response that may benefit some critically ill patients, others may not tolerate the cardiovascular demands associated with fever. OBJECTIVES: To compare antipyretics and physical cooling for their effects on core body temperature and cardiovascular responses in critically ill patients. METHODS: The antipyretic administered was 650 mg of acetaminophen. Physical cooling was accomplished by anterior placement of a cooling blanket at 18 degrees C. Core temperature and cardiovascular responses were measured in 14 febrile (body temperature, 38.8 degrees C) critically ill patients at baseline before treatment and up to 3 hours after treatment. Patients able to receive acetaminophen were randomly assigned to receive either acetaminophen only (n = 5) or acetaminophen in combination with a cooling blanket (n = 3). Patients not able to receive acetaminophen were treated with physical cooling only (n = 6). RESULTS: Mean body temperature decreased minimally from baseline to 3 hours after treatment in the physical-cooling-only group (from 39.1 degrees C to 39.0 degrees C) and in the physical cooling and acetaminophen group (from 39.1 degrees C to 38.6 degrees C), but the mean body temperature increased in the acetaminophen-only group (from 39.2 degrees C to 39.4 degrees C). Other notable findings included a slight increase in systemic vascular resistance index in the physical-cooling-only group and in the physical-cooling-plus-acetaminophen group. CONCLUSIONS: Although the study included only 14 subjects, the findings will provide information for future studies in febrile critically ill patients.

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