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Other Names:
Low Body Heat, Cold Exposure
Hypothermia

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Definition

Hypothermia is when body temperature reaches a dangerously low level (Below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, 35 degrees Celsius.) Severe accidental hypothermia is normally defined when the body temperature dips below 30° C (86° F]).

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Symptoms

Those who may be suffering hypothermia have slower mental and physical reactions, progressively getting worse as their condition deteriorates. Those undergoing hypothermia are also likely to be suffering from frostbite. Other symptoms include:

  • Weakness and lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Confusion, diminished mental capacity
  • Uncontrolled shivering that may desist if condition worsens
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing

In severe accidental hypothermia, we may even find victims appearing to be clinically dead with:

  • A marked depression of cerebral blood flow and oxygen requirement
  • Reduced cardiac output
  • Decreased arterial pressure, and
  • Marked depression of brain and cardiovascular function
  • Difficult to detect peripheral pulses and respiratory efforts

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Implication

Hypothermia is a potentially fatal condition. Cardiac arrest, shock, coma and brain damage are all possible results if cold exposure continues. In severe accidental hypothermia, full resuscitation with neurological recovery intact is possible but unusual.

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Possible Causes

Cold exposure is the only possible cause of Hypothermia. Aggravating factors that may speed up the onset of hypothermia include wet clothing, cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, malnutrition and heavy exertion. Certain medications, such as beta blockers and medical conditions that affect the blood vessels like diabetes can also make some individuals more susceptible than others.

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Treatment Options

The first and most important treatment of hypothermia is moving the victim from the cold and proving warmth. Medical attention is of utmost importance. Whilst waiting for help to arrive, CPR may need to be administered if the victim has fallen unconscious. The hypothermic individual should be covered head-to-toe in warm blankets to retain body heat. Wet clothing should be removed, and replaced with dry ones and the patient should be shielded from the wind. Warm compresses should be applied to the chest, neck and groin. Sweet, warm beverages should be administered.

Once rescued by medical personnel, treatments may consist of administering warmed IV fluids and the inhalation of warm, humidified oxygen. Life saving procedures should not be withheld based on clinical presentation because in some cases, patients will appear to be clinically dead. Even in cases where the body’s core temperature has fallen below 28 degrees, after heart stoppage and breathing had ended, hypothermia patients have been revived hours after their apparent deaths.

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Home Care & Natural Remedies

Dressing warmly and avoiding prolonged exposure to cold conditions is the best way to prevent hypothermia. Avoiding cigarettes and alcohol will prevent reduced blood flow that may play a factor in the onset of hypothermia. Warm, sweet food and drink with a high caloric content will help generate body heat and help keep a person warm during periods of extreme cold. Do not offer tea, coffee or alcohol. Remember: The body loses heat to the water about 30 times faster than in air. It is therefore better to be outside the water than in the water. After rescue and recovery, those with poor circulation should consider taking a supplement such as Gingko Biloba which is known to increase blood flow.

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Hypothermia