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Research
Understanding and Preventing Hypothermia
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Jan 19, 2018 - 1:39:24 PM

(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia (hi-poe-THUR-me-uh) occurs as your body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs can't work normally. Left untreated, hypothermia can eventually lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death.

Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Primary treatments for hypothermia are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.

Symptoms

Shivering is likely the first thing you'll notice as the temperature starts to drop because it's your body's automatic defense against cold temperature — an attempt to warm itself.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

Someone with hypothermia usually isn't aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior.

When to see a doctor

Call 911 or your local emergency number if you suspect someone has hypothermia.

While you wait for emergency help to arrive, gently move the person inside if possible. Jarring movements can trigger dangerous irregular heartbeats. Carefully remove his or her wet clothing, replacing it with warm, dry coats or blankets.

 

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Causes

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it produces it. The most common causes of hypothermia are exposure to cold-weather conditions or cold water. But prolonged exposure to any environment colder than your body can lead to hypothermia if you aren't dressed appropriately or can't control the conditions.

 

Specific conditions leading to hypothermia include:

 

How your body loses heat

The mechanisms of heat loss from your body include the following:

Risk factors

Risk factors for hypothermia include:

Complications

People who develop hypothermia because of exposure to cold weather or cold water are also vulnerable to other cold-related injuries, including:

Prevention

Staying warm in cold weather

Before you or your children step out into cold air, remember the advice that follows with the simple acronym COLD — cover, overexertion, layers, dry:

Keeping children safe from the cold

To help prevent hypothermia when children are outside in the winter:

Winter car safety

Whenever you're traveling during bad weather, be sure someone knows where you're headed and at what time you're expected to arrive. That way, if you get into trouble on your way, emergency responders will know where to look for your car.

It's also a good idea to keep emergency supplies in your car in case you get stranded. Supplies may include several blankets, matches, candles, a clean can where you can melt snow into drinking water, a first-aid kit, dry or canned food, a can opener, tow rope, booster cables, compass, and a bag of sand or kitty litter to spread for traction if you're stuck in the snow. If possible, travel with a cellphone.

If you're stranded, put everything you need in the car with you, huddle together and stay covered. Run the car for 10 minutes each hour to warm it up. Make sure a window is slightly open and the exhaust pipe isn't covered with snow while the engine is running.

Alcohol

To avoid alcohol-related risks of hypothermia, don't drink alcohol:

Cold-water safety

Water doesn't have to be extremely cold to cause hypothermia. Any water that's colder than normal body temperature causes heat loss. (8, p2) The following tips may increase your survival time in cold water if you accidentally fall in:

Help for at-risk people

For people most at risk of hypothermia — infants, older adults, people who have mental or physical problems, and people who are homeless — community outreach programs and social support services can be of great help. If you're at risk or know someone at risk, contact your local public health office for available services, such as the following:

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