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Hypothermia: Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Prevention and Treatment

Do you know about Hypothermia? How is it caused? What are the risk factors? How is it treated and prevented? Let us find out!
Nov 21, 2019 16:39 IST
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What is Hypothermia?
What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a medical condition in which body temperature drops below a safe level and it can be fatal or dangerous. The normal temperature of the body is around 98.6˚F or 37˚C. If the environment is too cold and the body is not able to produce sufficient heat, the core temperature of the body can drop and results in hypothermia.

Therefore we can say that hypothermia is suddenly dropped in body temperature due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. The risk increases during the winter month. Do you know that if a person is suffering from hypothermia, the core temperature of the body drops below 95 degrees? And in severe hypothermia, the temperature of the body can drop to 82 degrees or lower.

Now, let us see how during cold exposure cause Hypothermia?

Most of the heat up to 90% loss due to exposure to cold temperatures. Energy loss can be through the skin and the rest of it is exhaled by the lungs. Primarily, heat loss happens through the skin via radiation and it speeds up when it is exposed to wind or moisture. Let us tell you that if exposure to cold is due to being immersed in cold water then heat loss can occur 25 times faster than it would if exposed to the same air temperature.

The part of the brain namely the hypothalamus is the brain's temperature control center and works to increase the temperature of the body by triggering processes that heat and cool the body. During the exposure in cold temperature, shivering is a protective response to produce heat. And on the other side heat preserving response is known as vasoconstriction in which blood vessels temporarily become narrow.

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It is said that the heart and liver activity mostly produce most of the body heat. But as core temperature of body cools, these organs start producing less heat and produce a protective "shut down" to preserve heat and protect the brain. A low temperature of the body can slow brain activity, breathing, and heart rate.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

- Shivering

- Weak pulse

- Slurred speech

- Slow or shallow breathing

- Lack of coordination or clumsiness

- Memory loss or confusion

- Very low energy or drowsiness

- Loss of consciousness

- In infants, skin may become bright red and cold skin.

- It becomes challenge for the patient to take preventive step.

- Mood changes

- Irritability

- Fatigue

- Nausea

- Hunger

- Increased respiratory rate

- A weak or irregular pulse

- Coma that can result in death

Sometimes it may happen that a person suffering from hypothermia is not aware of his or her condition because symptoms often begin gradually. And confused thinking prevents the patient from self-awareness and can lead to risk-taking behaviour.

What causes hypothermia?

When the body loses heat faster than it produces can lead to hypothermia. The common cause of hypothermia is exposure to cold-weather or cold water. Also, prolonged exposure to any environment colder than the body can cause hypothermia.

- Wearing clothes that are not much warm for weather conditions.

- Don't stay in cold temperatures too long.

- Unable to remove wet clothes or moving to a warm and dry location.

- During an accident or boating accident, you fall into the water.          

- Living in such a house where there is too cold weather due to poor heating or too much air.   

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What are the risk factors for hypothermia?

- Because of fatigue, tolerance for cold diminishes.

- With the age, ability of the body to regulate temperature and to sense cold decreases.

- In a very young age children lose heat faster than adults.

- Some kind of mental illness, dementia or other brain conditions.

- Alcohol and use of drugs.

- Certain medical condition also affects the body's ability to regulate the temperature of the body. Examples include hypothyroidism, poor nutrition, diabetes, stroke, severe arthritis, etc.

- Because of medicines, the ability of the body to regulate temperature may also reduce.

Treatment for Hypothermia

- If the case of hypothermia is severe then treatment begins immediately before the patient develops ventricular fibrillation or any other cardiac dysrhythmia.

- Place a patient in a warm environment, remove wet clothes and replace it with dry towels and blankets or sleeping bags.

- If a person is unconscious or facing difficulty in breathing immediately call an ambulance.

- The patient should be given warm fluids if he or she is able to drink but don't give alcohol or caffeine.

- Cover the body of the person with a blanket or aluminium foil.

- Extreme exertion of muscles should be avoided etc.

Medical treatments are as follows:        

- If a patient faces difficulty in breathing then the doctor provides tube that will help in breathing.

- Heart treatment is provided to the patient during ventricular fibrillation.

 - Warm fluids and an IV line will be given to the patient to treat the dehydration.

- The patient is kept on peritoneal dialysis.

- Heated irrigation: In this tubes may be placed between the ribs and heated water applied over the lungs and heart.

- The Patient is treated with a method known as diathermy in which ultrasound and low-frequency microwave radiation is employed to deliver heat to deeper tissues etc.

Prevention of Hypothermia

- Be aware of environmental conditions.

- People should take proper nutrition and rest.

- Travel with partner

- Wear loosely fitted clothes and multiple layer clothing.

- Cover the head with clothes, wrists, neck, hands, and feet. Also, try to remain dry, wool, silk or polypropylene layered clothing is much better than cotton.

- During an emergency, drink cold water rather than ice or snow.

- Be aware of wet weather or wind because they increase the rate of heat loss.

- Maintain the temperature of the elderly people room heated around 70 F.

So, now you may have come to know about hypothermia, causes, symptoms, treatment and preventive measures.

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