Warming Techniques and Roles for the Preoperative Patient

Posted by Lauren Burke on

What is Thermal Comfort?

Thermal comfort refers to the satisfaction you feel when there is an equilibrium between body temperature and room temperature. In a cold environment, your body loses heat, making getting warm difficult without some form of warming aid. In a hot environment, the body fails to dissipate heat enough into the already hot air, so body temperature increases. Both of these states lead to thermal discomfort.

With thermal neutrality, the body dissipates just the right amount of heat. In other words, you feel comfortable, not too hot and not too cold.

What are the Benefits of Preoperative Warming?

Pre-warming increases the thermal energy in the peripheral compartment of the body. General anesthesia decreases vasoconstriction in a way that reduces the core body temperature. Preoperative warming increases the thermal energy in the peripheral compartment, so more heat flows down into the core helping to stabilize the temperature after the introduction of the anesthetic agent.

Studies show that perioperative warming can:

  • Reduce postoperative wound pain
  • Lower the risk of infection
  • Reduce incidents of shivering
  • Reduce blood loss

A nurse’s objective with perioperative warming is to help the patient reach that equilibrium despite the normally cool environment. This is done with the help of a warming technique such as a blanket.

The Advantages of Cotton Blankets

There are many different warming techniques but supplying warmed cotton blankets has been used for decades. Providing patients with a warmed cotton blanket is a passive thermal measure to improve both body temperature and thermal comfort. Patients respond positively to their use, as well.

When a nurse first puts a warmed cotton blanket over a preoperative patient, they often express a sense of satisfaction. The blanket may invoke a thermal comfort memory from previous surgery or hospital stay. Studies show that the blankets are effective in raising the skin temperature for prewarming but do not lead to thermal discomfort when carefully monitored.

Anxiety levels are a major concern before surgery, too. Warmed blankets provide a sense of safety and privacy that can lower stress levels and promote relaxation.

The Nurses Role in Preoperative Warming 

The nurse must be attentive to the patient and observe body temperature closely. Being too cold or too hot may have an adverse effect on surgical outcomes. Nurses should:

  • Check warming cabinet temperatures regularly.
  • Talk to the patient to determine the thermal comfort level, sense of well-being and to help ease anxiety.
  • Be prepared to supply a second blanket if additional warming is necessary.

Preoperative warming is necessary for both patient comfort and to reduce the risk of hypothermia and other surgical complications.

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