What Is Hypothermia? A Doctor Explains

    The average human body temperature is 98.6 °F (37 C°). Hypothermia is a medical condition in which the body temperature falls below 95.0 °F (35 C°) in humans, this condition causes the body to lose temperature quickly. So what are the signs & symptoms of this conditions and what is the treatment for hypothermia?

    What happens when your body temperature drops? Your sensory system and different organs cannot typically work under this condition. Left untreated, hypothermia can prompt failure of your heart and respiratory systems and may lead to death.

    The main reason for hypothermia is brought about by exposure to chilly climates or immersion in cold water—prolonged exposure, or exposure to an environment that is colder than your body. The primary cure for hypothermia is to warm the body back to an average body temperature.

    Signs And Symptoms Of Hypothermia

    There are several symptoms of hypothermia. The symptoms range from mumbling (talking quietly and indistinctly) to loss of consciousness. However, the first symptom that arises in patients is shivering. Shivering is your response against cold temperatures to warm your body. The body’s low temperature can be caused by alcohol or drug use or by going into shock or certain disorders such as diabetes or low thyroid.

    Here are some other signs and symptoms caused by hypothermia:

    • Shivering
    • Mumbling or inability to talk clearly
    • Slow breathing
    • Weak pulse
    • Lack of coordination
    • Low energy level
    • Unconsciousness
    • Red skin (mostly in infants)
    • Memory loss

    When in a state of hypothermia, the person often does not usually realize they have the condition because the side effects start gradually. Hypothermia can also lead to making wrong decisions due to brain fog, which creates an altered level of consciousness.

    The Possible Causes

    Hypothermia happens when a human body loses heat at a fast rate. Here are a few more causes of hypothermia:

    • Wearing clothes that are not warm enough for the temperature and climate

    • Staying outdoors in colder regions for an extended period

    • Wet clothes

    • Falling into the water (rivers, canals or pond)s. Or staying for a long time in a swimming pool with cold water

    • Living in an apartment where the temperature remains low, or at a home not adequately constructed to insulate during the cold

    5 Stages Of Hypothermia

    The International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine (ICMEM) has categorized hypothermia according to its severity. There are five stages of hypothermia, which are: 

    • HT I – Mild – Shivering but normal mental status. This causes high blood pressure and heart rate, constricted blood vessels and fatigue. The estimated core temperature is about 89.6°F (32°C) to 95°F (35°C)

    • HT II – Moderate – No shivering but altered mental status. Slowed down heart rate and breathing. Dilated pupils and lowered blood pressure. The estimated core temperature remains 82.4°F (28°C) to 89.6°F (32°C)
    •  HT III – Severe – Unconscious patient. Labored breathing becomes almost nonexistent and pupils become non-reacting. The estimated core temperature is around 75.2°F  (24°C) to 82.4°F (28°C)

    • HT IV – Severe – Apparent death. The estimated core temperature is 56.66°F (13.7°C) to 75.2°F (24°C). In such cases, resuscitation may help to revive the patient 

    • HT V – Death – Irreversible hypothermia. This results in heart failure or cardiac arrest. Core temperatures are less than 48.2°F (9°C) to 56.66°F (13.7°C). Resuscitation is not possible (1)

    These five stages help the rescuers identify the severity level and treat them according to the severity level.

    Every year several deaths are reported across the world due to hypothermia. According to one study, overall mortality in hypothermic patients was 12% (2). In the US, several deaths are regularly reported due to hypothermia in the regions that are colder. It is observed that nearly 1500 people die every year in the US due to hypothermia. Many cases have been observed in the region of Alaska due to its northern latitude. Alaska is the state with the highest rate of hypothermia-related deaths in the United States (3). 

    Treatment For Hypothermia

    Hypothermia is a medical emergency that requires attentive care and proper treatment. If not treated in time, it can lead to seriously fatal situations. As the body temperature drops below 82°F (27.7°C), resuscitation might not be possible. It is important to act promptly using informed emergency tips because a minute’s delay can make a difference between life and death. Such tips to be exercised immediately include:

    • Remove all the wet clothes, including gloves, socks, hats, jackets, shoes, etc.

    • Cover the person suffering from hypothermia using warm clothes or quilts

    • Turn off the AC/fan to avoid lowering down the body temperature

    • Move to warm shelter or indoors in case you are outdoors

    • Use electric blankets and heating pads to warm the body. In case of unavailability of any such warming gadget, use your body heat

    • Keep a regular check on the body temperature using a thermometer

    • Try to make the person drink warm beverages. These beverages could involve warm water to other heated liquid. Avoid offering caffeinated drinks like coffee because it accelerates the process of heat loss

    • Seek immediate help from a nearby hospital or clinic


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