Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
Frostbite occurs when tissues freeze. This condition happens when you are
exposed to temperatures below the freezing point of skin. Hypothermia is the
condition of developing an abnormally low body temperature. Frostbite and
hypothermia are both cold-related medical emergencies.
The condition has long been recognized. A 5000-year-old pre-Columbian mummy
discovered in the Chilean mountains offers the earliest documented evidence of
frostbite. More recently, Napoleon's surgeon general, Baron Dominique Larrey,
provided the first description of the mechanisms of frostbite in 1812, during
his army's retreat from Moscow. He also noted the harmful effects of the
freeze-thaw-freeze cycle endured by soldiers who would warm their frozen hands
and feet over the campfire at night only to refreeze those same parts by the
Although frostbite used to be a military problem, it is now a civilian one as
well. The nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes are most
commonly affected. Everyone is susceptible, even people who have been living in
cold climates for most of their lives. Some groups of people at greatest risk
for frostbite and hypothermia include people:
who spend a great deal of time outdoors, such as the homeless,
hikers, hunters, etc.;
under the influence of alcohol;
who are elderly without adequate heating, food, and shelter;
hypothermia are the consequences of cold exposure and both can
have long lasting effects.
Frostbite and hypothermia are the consequences of cold exposure and both can have long lasting effects.
Not all organs in the body are created equal. While the body tries to maintain a constant temperature where heat production is balanced by heat loss, it is quite willing to sacrifice expendable parts like fingers and toes to protect vital organs like the heart and brain. When exposed to a cold environment, the body tries to keep blood circulating away from the skin where it can be cooled by the outside weather. Shivering starts to generate heat and can compensate well if the cold exposure is short-lived. If, however, the body remains in the cold, bad things can happen very quickly.