What Is Hypothermia? Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Hypothermia caused by excessive exposure to natural cold & it can be fatal too. Well, its time to educate the community about how to deal with bad weather or in emergencies.

Hypothermia is a condition in which the body temperature falls to less than 350 C or 950 C. It is the leading cause of mortality and it contributes to twice the number of deaths as compared to those caused by heat in US.

What Is Hypothermia? Signs, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment
Hypothermia causes due to a severe fall in body temperature. Shutterstock Images

Hypothermia is more common in males because one of its leading causes is alcohol intoxication and the fact that men have reduced fats in the body.

A study that was done by Wisconsin showed that 67% of deaths that occurred secondary to Hypothermia were males. The deaths that are related to hypothermia are caused by excessive exposure to natural cold[1].

Causes of Hypothermia

The main risk factors of this condition are social isolation, drug intoxication and mental illness. The other factors that are likely to cause fatal hypothermia include homelessness, male gender and old age. The people who have increased age are likely to get fatal hypothermia because they have impaired generation of heat.

They are also likely to have multiple diseases /co-morbidities and this can also increased the risk of death.

See Also: Dealing with addiction and substance abuse for adults.

Alcohol and substance intoxication is also a major cause of fatal hypothermia[2]. This is because intoxication of the body blunts physiological processes that respond to cold and this can impair judgment leading to prolonged exposure to cold.

The review that was done by Wisconsin showed that most of the people who suffered from hypothermia lived alone and this delayed their treatment leading to deaths.

This is very common with the people who have advanced age as their children are either married, in schools or living alone away from the parents. The old are likely to have other illnesses in the body that incapacitate them and this increases their risk of death.

Death From Falling Ice Statistics

Nearly 700 Americans die due to Hypothermia every year. graphs.net

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia

The initial sign and symptoms of hypothermia include cool extremities and shivering as the temperature of the body falls. As the condition worsens, the patient may become confused, or have amnesia and loss of motor skills.

When the exposure to cold is continued, the individual will have impaired respiration where they have a problem with breathing, hypotension and cardiac arrhythmias and this will eventually lead to death.

Hypothermia Stages

Treatment of Hypothermia

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia so that the necessary precautions can be taken to reduce mortality. The proper management will include warming up the patient and this can be done using external warming agents like heated air and blankets. This is the proper mode of treatment in mild hypothermia.

Internal methods of warming the body should be used when treating severe hypothermia and this includes ‘body cavity lavage’. In cases where the condition of the patient deteriorates and leads to a cardiac arrest, cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be done while using re-warming methods.

There is a greater awareness of weather events that can be fatal to the life of human beings and how to respond to them. The community has been taught on how to respond to adverse weather conditions in order to prevent fatal deaths. One of the components that are being used is opening up the warming shelters that are publically available when there is an expectation of extreme colds.

These studies indicate that the local and state health agencies will need to focus more on educating the public and reaching members of the community who are more vulnerable through communication networks. There should also be interventions that are targeted for certain groups like those who are homeless, the old and those who live alone.

The educational materials being used should emphasize that hypothermia can occur very fast and all measures should avoid the aggravation of the condition. The health agencies should also help community members to review the signs that warn of impending hypothermia and ways in which this can be reduced.

This includes encouraging the community members to wear suitable clothes for bad weather, avoiding weather conditions that are hazardous, and preparing for emergencies when there is bad weather like loss of power and car breakdowns.

The community should also be encouraged to avoid consumption of alcohol and drug abuse as it is one of the major factors contributing to fatal hypothermia.

A case study that was done by Wisconsin on 27 deaths that were related to hypothermia showed that most of the people who died tested positive for alcohol[3]. This shows the relation between males and fatal hypothermia and why the incidence is more in males.

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Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when the body is exposed to extreme cold lowering the body temperature to below 350 C. The causes include drug and alcohol intoxication[4], isolation and mental conditions. Treatment will include warming the body and this can be done using internal or external agents. It is also important to educate the community members to be aware of bad weather, prepare for emergencies and responding appropriately for them.



Sam Kramer is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, Six Sigma Green Belt Certified, and Certified Sports Nutritionis

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