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Critical Reviews™ in Biomedical Engineering
SJR: 0.207 SNIP: 0.376 CiteScore™: 0.79

ISSN Print: 0278-940X
ISSN Online: 1943-619X

Critical Reviews™ in Biomedical Engineering

DOI: 10.1615/CritRevBiomedEng.v25.i4-5.10
pages 287-370

Neutral Temperature Range in Incubators: Performance of Equipment in Current Use and New Developments

Jean-Pierre Libert
Unite de Recherches sur les Adaptations Physiologiques et Comportementales (EA 2088), Faculte de Medecine, 3 rue des Louvels, Universite de Picardie Jules Verne, 80036 Amiens Cedex, France
Veronique Bach
Unite de Recherches sur les Adaptations Physiologiques et Comportementales (EA 2088), Faculte de Medecine, 3 rue des Louvels, Universite de Picardie Jules Verne, 80036 Amiens Cedex, France
Gilbert Farges
Services Scientifiques Communs, Universite de Technologie de Compiegne - BP 529 - 60205 Compiegne Cedex, France


Low-birth-weight neonates should be nursed at thermoneutrality inside incubators. Thermoneutrality control is essential to enhance body growth and to reduce neonatal illnesses and mortality. Guidelines have been published to provide the thermoneutral range, but the recommendations did not always take into account all ambient and physiological parameters influencing thermoneutrality. In most marketed incubators, the heat supply is controlled through convective air flow (closed incubators) or through radiant power density (radiant warmer beds). The heating unit (on/off cycling or adjustable proportional control) is activated by an error signal calculated from the difference between a controlled temperature and a reference value preset by the clinician. The controlled variable can be either the incubator air temperature or the skin temperature of the anterior abdominal region of the neonate.
The neonate's size, thermal properties of the mattress and of incubator walls, air temperature and humidity, air velocity, incubator wall temperatures all influence the heat exchanges between the neonate and the surroundings, and, consequently, modify the obtention of thermoneutrality. Moreover, studies of the physiological mechanisms by which the neonate regulates body heat storage suggest that metabolic rate, behavior, vigilance level, nursing care, and heater control processes should also be taken into account. Little attention has been paid to these factors, and incubator performances are often disappointing.
This article reviews the different factors that modify thermoneutral condition. An attempt is made to suggest new ways to design equipment incorporating these factors in algorithms controlling heater processes in order to reach the optimal thermal environment in which the neonate should be nursed.

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