What is Hypothermia

Hypothermia will occur when the bodies natural defences against it (such as shivering and heat retention in body core) fail. Your normal body core temperature is usually 37 degrees celsius. When this drops below approximately 35 degrees, one is considered to be hypothermic.

Statistics on Hypothermia

Incidence statistics worldwide are not readliy available, but in studies conducted in the USA nearly 700 Americans per year die of Hypothermia.
There does not seem to be a sex or race based predisposition.

Risk Factors for Hypothermia

The groups considered to be most at risk of hypothermia include:

  • Very old or very young.
  • Chronically ill, especially with heart or circulation problems.
  • Malnourished.
  • Overly tired.
  • Alcohol or drug users/abusers.


How is Hypothermia Diagnosed?

If someone suspected of having hypothermia presents with a ‘ghostly’ appearance, are not entirely coherent, have an erratic heart rate and or shallow breathing and are cold to touch then it is paramount that they be taken to hospital immediately. There the emergency doctors can undertake a number of test to confirm any suspicions.

Prognosis of Hypothermia

Chances for recovery depend on how long a person was exposed to the cold and his or her general health.

How is Hypothermia Treated?


  • Monitor their breathing patterns for any abnormality. If shallow breathing or non-existent breathing occur, EAR or CPR may need to be undertaken.
  • Provide warm beverages, ensuring they are of a non-alcoholic nature.

Guildlines on what not to do are as follows:
– Do not apply direct heat. Do not use hot water, a heating pad or a heating lamp to warm the victim. Instead, apply warm compresses to the neck, chest wall and groin. Don’t attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heat applied to the arms and legs forces cold blood back toward the heart, lungs and brain causing the core body temperature to drop. This can be fatal.
– Do not massage or rub the person. Handle people with hypothermia gently because they are at risk of cardiac arrest.
– Do not provide alcohol beverages. Alcohol lowers the body’s ability to retain heat.


Hypothermia References

[1] Britt LD, Dascombe WH, Rodriguez A: New horizons in management of hypothermia and frostbite injury. Surg Clin North Am 1991 Apr; 71(2): 345-70.
[2] Mayo Clinic Health.
[3] Zachary L, Kucan JO, Robson MC, et al.: Accidental hypothermia treated with rapid rewarming by immersion. Ann Plast Surg 1982 Sep; 9(3): 238-41.

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