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Hypothermia (cont.)

How Is Hypothermia Diagnosed?

In severe cases of hypothermia, diagnosis and treatment usually will occur at the same time because it is a medical emergency.

  • The doctor will take a history from either the victim, if possible, or from whoever is present. Some vital information includes the length of exposure, the circumstances of recovery, and any past medical problems that may have influenced this episode.
  • Symptoms vary, so the final diagnosis depends on the core body temperature. It is never taken by mouth. The temperature may be measured rectally or by a tube placed in the esophagus. Temperature will be measured continuously, when such devices are available.
  • A number of blood tests will be performed as hypothermia can affect almost every organ system in the body. X-rays, may be ordered, and an ECG (electrocardiogram) will be done to look at the electrical activity of the heart. The patient might be placed on a monitor to continuously observe their heart rate and watch for arrhythmias.

What Is the Treatment for Hypothermia?

The first priority is to perform a careful check for breathing and a pulse and initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as necessary.

  • If the person is unconscious, having severe breathing difficulty, or is pulseless, call 911 for an ambulance.
  • Because the victim's heartbeat may be very weak and slow, the pulse check should ideally be continued for at least one minute before beginning CPR. Rough handling of these victims may cause deadly heart rhythms.

The second priority is re-warming.

  • Remove all wet clothes and move the person inside.
  • The victim should be given warm fluids if he or she is able to drink, but do not give the person caffeine or alcohol.
  • Cover the person's body with blankets and aluminum-coated foils or other available protective covers (for example, a sleeping bag). Avoid actively heating the victim with outside sources of heat such as radiators or hot water baths. This may only decrease the amount of shivering and slow the rate of core temperature increase.
  • Strenuous muscle exertion should be avoided; rubbing or massaging the limbs and exertion may trigger cardiac arrest in some hypothermic patients.
  • Some cold exposure (borderline hypothermia), such as cold hands and feet, may be treated with home care techniques, but calling a health care professional for advise is recommended.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/10/2016

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