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Hypothermia (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care

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.

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Hypothermia »

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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