Hypothermia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, First-Aid

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is an emergent medical condition in which the body starts losing heat rapidly and the temperature of the body falls down rapidly resulting in the vital organs of the body not able to function appropriately. An individual is said to have Hypothermia if the body temperature of that individual falls down below 35 degrees Celsius. If Hypothermia is not treated emergently it may cause complete malfunction of the heart, nervous system, and respiratory system leading to death. Hypothermia mostly occurs when an individual is exposed to extremely cold weather without proper warm clothes or staying in cold water for an increasingly long time. The treatment for Hypothermia begins with getting the body temperature back to normal by warming up the person.


What Causes Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition which occurs when the body starts losing heat more quickly than it can produce it resulting in the body temperature going down rapidly. Some of the common causes of Hypothermia are exposure to extremely cold weather conditions or cold water without being appropriately dressed. Some of the specific causes for Hypothermia are:

  • Wearing clothes not warm enough for the given cold weather condition
  • Staying out in cold for increased amount of time
  • Inability to get out of wet clothes
  • Falling accidentally in cold water
  • Inadequate heating measures at home.

Who is at Risk for Hypothermia?

The following are the risk factors for Hypothermia:

Age: The elderly population is more at risk for developing Hypothermia especially during the cold weather.

Infants: Infants and newborns are also at increased risk for Hypothermia in the cold weather.

Mental Illness: In people with mental illness like dementia or other conditions that may impair their judgment are also at increased risk for Hypothermia, as they may not be able to judge how cold the weather is outside and may wander without proper protective clothing.

Alcohol and Recreational Drug Abuse: One can say that alcohol makes one warm, but in reality it causes blood vessels to dilate causing more heat loss. Also overindulgence in alcohol or recreational drug may impair the judgment and the individual may not wear appropriate clothing suitable for the weather conditions and end up having Hypothermia.

What are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?

Some of the symptoms of Hypothermia are:

  • Shivering
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling hungry
  • Nausea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Problems speaking
  • Confusion
  • Coordination difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shivering, as the condition worsens
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Shallow breathing.

How is Hypothermia Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Hypothermia becomes quite obvious just by the individual’s physical sign and in what state the individual was found. The severity of Hypothermia can be confirmed with blood tests. In some cases where the individual is quite old and has been indoors for most of the time and is experiencing symptoms of confusion and problems speaking then a temperature check both oral and rectal will show low temperature readings and confirm the diagnosis of Hypothermia.

First Aid and Treatment for Hypothermia

First-Aid for Hypothermia: Hypothermia requires emergent treatment. To begin with one can start first-aid treatment for Hypothermia before the person is shifted to the hospital to try to get the patient back to normal.

To begin with hold the patient suffering from Hypothermia very gently and try not to move the patient too much, as excessive movement or shaking may cause a cardiac arrest. Do not try to rub or massage. Make the room temperature as warm as possible. Try and put warm clothing like a blanket or a rug over the patient to keep the patient warm. Make sure that the patient is not exposed to cold in any fashion. Take a note of the breathing pattern of the patient and if it is extremely low then start CPR immediately. If the patient is conscious and is able to swallow then try and given some warm liquids. Try and apply dry hot compresses but do not apply direct heat. Make sure that hot compresses should never be placed on the arms or the legs as this can have serious consequences. Do not use hot water, heating pad etc.

Medical Treatment:  The medical treatment for Hypothermia depends on the severity of the condition. The following modalities are used for treating Hypothermia:

Warming the Blood:  In this method, the blood is taken out, warmed and then circulated again in the body. The most preferred way of doing this is by using a dialysis machine

Warm Intravenous Fluids: Warmed IV solution of salt water can also be injected to help warm the blood.

Irrigation: A warm saltwater solution is used for warming certain areas of the body like the lungs or the abdominal cavity for treating Hypothermia.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 4, 2019

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