Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature. It is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses more heat than it can produce. It is usually the result of being exposed to very cold temperatures. But it can also occur in other circumstances, such as:
Being in less cold temperatures with a wind chillWearing wet clothesBeing in a position where you cannot moveBeing in cold waterCertain medical conditions
People who may have a higher risk of hypothermia include:
Babies and young childrenOlder adults
Adults under the influence of
drugsPeople who are mentally illPeople who spend long periods of time outdoors
Risk factors may also be increased by certain medications and conditions that make it harder for your body to stay warm.
Symptoms of hypothermia usually happen gradually. Over time, mental and physical abilities are lessened. The main symptoms of hypothermia are:
Shivering—this increases the muscle activity in your body as your body tries to keep warmConfusionClumsinessMemory lossSlurred speechDrowsinessIrritabilityHallucinations—sensing things that are not realSlowed breathingCold, pale skin
The situation becomes dangerous when shivering stops and confusion and drowsiness increase. Hypothermia is deadly because it causes the heartbeat to slow down, become irregular, and eventually stop.
In hypothermia, the heartbeat slows. If left untreated, the heart will stop beating.
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Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Hypothermia is diagnosed when body temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) or lower. Only a special rectal thermometer that reads low temperatures can confirm that someone has this condition.
It is important to act quickly if you suspect that you or someone else has hypothermia:
Get to a warm, sheltered area.Remove any wet clothing.Use an electric blanket to warm the core of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin.If no electric blanket is available, use skin-to-skin contact under loose blankets or towels.Give warm beverages to drink. Do not give alcoholic beverages.Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and appear to have no pulse. Medical attention is important because, in some cases, people can be saved even though they appear dead.
If you are planning to spend time outside, take the following precautions:
Be aware of the weather.
Wear the right clothing:
Hat, scarf, and mittensSeveral layers of loose-fitting clothingWater-resistant coat and shoesWind-resistant outer layerGo inside when you are shivering or if you are wet.Do not drink alcohol.Eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated.
Also, take special precautions with older adults, babies, and young children. If rooms are not kept warm enough, they can be affected by hypothermia even if they remain indoors.
Hypothermia: a cold weather hazard. National Institute on Aging website. Available at:
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hypothermia-cold-weather-hazard. Updated June 16, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Winter weather FAQs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/faq.asp. Updated November 26, 2013. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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