Hypothermia: Description, Causes and Risk Factors: Alternative Names: Cold shocks, cold exposure, low body temperature below 94°F. Types: Accidental hypothermia.
  • Moderate hypothermia.
  • Profound hypothermia.
  • Regional hypothermia.
  • Total body hypothermia.
The body maintains a normal temperature by burning food, which is dependent on consumption of adequate calories, thus burning of calories creates heat. Body heat is also produced by exercise or by the body's shivering mechanism. HypothermiaBody Heat can be lost in four different ways; conduction, convection, radiation and evaporation. Loss by conduction requires physical contact with a cooler object and can occur while sitting on a cold surface. Heat is lost by convection when the warm shell of air surrounding the body is destroyed and can occur with a high wind chill factor. On a still cold day, if a person neglects to wear a hat, up to 50% of body heat can also be lost through the scalp through radiation. Body heat can also be lost by evaporation of perspiration from the skin surface. This loss of body heat is caused by: Wet Clothing - ruins insulating properties of clothing.
  • Wind - will drag out the heat.
  • Cold - remember temperature drops with increased altitude.
Hypothermia is not just caused by environmental factors. Other factors that may hinder the body's ability to maintain its core temperature are: Lack of Food - not enough, or the wrong sort.
  • Fatigue - lack of fitness, too hard a trip, or too heavy a load.
  • Injury and/or anxiety.
  • Recent Illness - especially `flu'.
Risk Factors: Being outside without enough protective clothing in winter.
  • Falling overboard from a boat into cold water.
  • Wearing wet clothing in windy or cold weather.
  • Heavy exertion, not drinking enough fluids, or not eating enough in cold weather.
Symptoms: The symptoms may include: Muscular rigidity.
  • Pupils dilated.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Weakness and loss of coordination.
  • Pale and cold skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Uncontrollable shivering.
  • Slowed breathing or heart rate.
Diagnosis: When considering the diagnosis, a false sense of reassurance may be given by standard clinical thermometers, which measure only as low as 34.4°C (94°F). It is important to use special low-reading rectal thermometers or rectal thermistor probes, when available. Tympanic thermometry and bladder probes also have been used frequently in research, but further studies are needed to determine their accuracy in patients with hypothermia. Although the ideal mode of core temperature measurement is controversial, the best strategy is to simultaneously use as many methods as are available because the body contains temperature gradients during rewarming. Treatment: The clinical presentation of hypothermia includes a spectrum of symptoms and is grouped into the following three categories: Mild.
  1. Moderate.
  2. Severe.
Mild to moderate hypothermia is treated easily with supportive care in most clinical settings and has good patient outcomes. The treatment of severe hypothermia is more complex, and outcomes depend heavily on clinical resources. Prevention and recognition of atypical presentations are essential to reducing the rates of morbidity and mortality associated with this condition. Basic treatment may include: Remove victim from the cold environment, avoid rough handling (hypothermia victims are fragile). Do not postpone treatment even if a person is removed from the cold environment.
  • Remove or replace wet clothing if dry clothes or blankets are available.
  • Have the victim rest in a warm, dry place. Do not put the victim in a hot tub or similar environment - suddenly warming up a victim can produce a heart attack.
  • Insulate the victim from further heat loss by wrapping them in a blanket.
  • Do not offer the victim food or drink.
  • Treat the victim for shock and transport to the nearest medical facilities as quickly as possible.
Preventive Measures: Good Clothing: Have waterproof and windproof clothing.
  • Hat and mittens (gloves) are equally important because of the high heat loss from head, neck and extremities.
Food: A good breakfast is essential to provide energy for the day. Take a combination of nourishing foods such as cheese, bread, peanut butter, scroggin, muesli bars etc. as well as high energy snacks such as chocolate, barley sugars, snack bars. Drink enough liquids. A thermos of hot liquid is ideal but a fast brew on a primus is also effective. Disclaimer: The above information is educational purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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