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Hypothermia (cont.)

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?

Patient Comments

Although the distinctions among mild, moderate, and severe hypothermia are not often clear, a somewhat constant sequence of events occurs as core body temperatures continue to decline.

  • At temperatures below 95 F (35 C), shivering is seen. Heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure increase.
  • As the temperature drops further, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure all decrease. People may experience some clumsiness, apathy, confusion, and slurred speech.
  • As core temperature drops lower than 89.9 F (32.2 C), shivering stops and oxygen consumption begins to drop. The victim may be in a stupor. The heart rhythm may become irregular.
  • At temperatures below 82.4 F (28 C), reflexes are lost and cardiac output continues to fall. The risk of dangerously irregular heart rhythms increases, and brain activity is seriously slowed. The pupils are dilated, and the victim appears comatose or dead.

When Should I Call the Doctor About Hypothermia?

Individuals may treat minor cold exposure at home with blankets and home care techniques. Call a doctor to ask about danger signs that might warrant immediate transportation to a medical facility.

Any person who is at risk for hypothermia and is suspected to have sustained a cold exposure should be brought to a hospital's emergency department. Look for these danger signs of cold exposure:

  • Intense shivering, stiffness, and numbness in the arms and legs, stumbling and clumsiness, sleepiness, confusion, and amnesia.
  • Removing clothing inappropriately in a cold environment (paradoxical undressing)
  • Extremities feel very cold when touched by a person with a normal body temperature; skin color changes to a bright red.
  • Cold and change in mental status or unresponsiveness
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • The medical adage that "a person is not dead until warm and dead" is based on the concept that victims may appear dead because of cold exposure, but many of these people have made complete recoveries when re-warmed. This situation has occurred with both adults and children, and is more likely to have a successful outcome in children, especially if the cold exposure was rapid, for example, falling into an ice-covered pond or pool. Many health care professionals will follow the adage even if the immersion water temperature is much warmer. Child drowning victims are frequently aggressively treated this way, especially if they are hypothermic. All such victims in this situation need rapid transport so that resuscitation attempts may be made.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/10/2016

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

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For the sake of brevity, this discussion includes only accidental hypothermia, not intentional hypothermia, which is used in certain surgeries or in the intensive care unit.

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