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Hypothermia is a condition where the body temperature drops below the normal and causes problems with the body’s metabolism and other functions. It is a medical emergency as the body loses heat faster than it can produce more heat. Normally, the body temperature is 37 degree C, whereas, in hypothermia, the temperature falls below 35 degree C.

Fall in body temperature  leads to inability of body organs to function normally. If the body heat is not restored soon enough, it could lead to heart failure leading to death.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

Symptoms of hypothermia depend on the severity of hypothermia.

Mild Hypothermia

Mild hypothermia may cause:

  • Shivering
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Tachypnea
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Mental confusion
  • Hyperglycemia as glucose consumption and insulin production decreases
  • Trouble speaking
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger
  • Nausea
  • Increase in heart rate

Moderate Hypothermia

Moderate symptoms include:

  • Violent shivering
  • Mis-coordination of the muscles
  • Slow and labored movements
  • Mild confusion
  • Skin color turns pale
  • Lips, ears, fingers and toes turn blue
  • Surface blood vessels contract as the focus of the body is to keep vital organs warm

Severe Hypothermia

  • Fall in heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Slow thinking
  • Amnesia
  • Difficulty using hands
  • Exposed skin turns blue and puffy
  • Muscle coordination is very poor
  • Inability to walk
  • Incoherent and irrational behavior
  • Paradoxical undressing
  • Terminal burrowing
  • Major organ failure
  • Clinical death

Causes of Hypothermia

Hypothermia usually results when one is exposed to extreme cold-weather or cold water. Prolonged exposure will cause the body to lose heat faster than it can produce, especially when one is not dressed appropriately.

Wearing clothes that are not too warm, staying out in cold, accidental fall into water, inadequate heating or too cold air conditioning at home (in case of infants and older people) can lead to hypothermia.

Diagnosis of Hypothermia

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The physical signs of the patient are enough to diagnose hypothermia and also the circumstances and environment the person is found helps point towards hypothermia.

Treatment of Hypothermia

Management of hypothermia includes being gentle when handling the patient. Sudden movements, lifting, etc. can trigger cardiac arrest. Move the person to a dry or warm location as soon as possible. If the person cannot be moved, protect him/her from further cold. Remove any wet clothing and cover him/her with warm blankets. Monitor the breathing and heart rate. In order to make the person feel warm, one can remove their clothing and lie next to the person to share body heat. Give the person warm drinks to drink and a warm compress only on chest, neck and groin area.

Medical treatment involves rewarming blood drawn from the body and recirculating it within the body. Administration of warm intravenous fluids, humidified oxygen, etc. may be given to warm the body.

Prevention of Hypothermia

  • Wear protective head covering to prevent body heat from escaping from the head, neck and face.
  • Wear mittens and warm socks.
  • Avoid activities that cause you to sweat a lot.
  • Wear layers of lightweight, warm clothing. Outer clothing may be made of water-repellent material that helps protect one from wind.
  • Try and remain dry as much as possible.
  • Make children wear one more layer of clothing, even indoors
  • If you see a child shivering, immediately move him/her to a warm location as shivering is the first sign of hypothermia setting in.
  • Huddle together, in case, a couple or a group of people gets trapped in a cold environment

Hypothermia is very common when people live in cold environments. Make sure you take ample of precautions to avoid hypothermia and make sure you send an SOS immediately to either the authorities or your family or friends.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 06, 2015

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