Hypothermia

What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is defined as a body core temperature below 35°C (95.0 °F). This is can be life-threatening and should be treated as an emergency. Typical symptoms are shivering, confusion, altered breathing rate and pulse, blue lips, fingers and toes. If treated promptly, most people recover well from hypothermia. Complications can include coma, brain damage and death.

Risks

Hypothermia is typically caused by exposure to cold temperatures, when the body temperature drops faster than the body can produce heat to compensate (for example by remaining in the cold for too long without wearing appropriate clothing, and accidental falls in water etc.). People at an older or very young age, or ones with mental problems are at higher risk for hypothermia. Additionally, those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or certain medical conditions (such as hypothyroidism, anorexia nervosa, etc.) are also at increased risk.

Symptoms

Different stages of hypothermia produce different symptoms. Mild hypothermia causes shivering, dizziness, nausea, fast breathing and heart beat, nausea, and tiredness. People with moderate to severe hypothermia become clumsy and confused and develop difficulty speaking, slowed breathing, drowsiness and rapid or irregular pulse. Often people affected by severe hypothermia are not aware of the severity of their condition.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is made by a doctor assessing symptoms, examining the patient and measuring the core body temperature.

Treatment

First-aid care is very important for a person with hypothermia. People with hypothermia should be removed from the cold environment, and covered with blankets. If the person is wet, the wet clothes should be removed. If the person can drink, they should drink warmed liquids. Heat pads and radiators may also be helpful. People who have a weak pulse, slow breathing and who have lost consciousness might need CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Other emergency measures include (in order of treatment urgency) warmed air, warmed fluids through a drip, warmed water in their body cavities and removal of blood for warming.

Prevention

The best prevention is to stay warm during cold weather, to avoid staying too long in cold water and not drinking alcohol in cold surroundings.