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Symptoms Of Hypothermia Appear When The Body Temperature Falls Below
Hypothermia is a dangerous condition involving low body temperature. Symptoms such as shivering, pale skin, and fast heart rate indicate a person’s core body temperature has dropped below normal.The stages of hypothermia range from mild to severe. Even the mild stage is an emergency, and a bystander should call 911 if they notice its signs. While waiting on help to arrive, first aid treatment entails getting the individual to a warm, dry place and removing any wet clothing. The underlying cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to cold. That said, other factors and conditions can increase the risk, including extremes in age and certain health conditions, such as malnutrition.Keep reading to learn more about the treatment, symptoms, prevention, diagnosis, and causes of hypothermia.Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature of below 95°F (35°C). This happens when a person experiences cold temperatures for a prolonged period.While normal metabolic processes in the body generate heat, wintry weather can cause the body to lose more heat than it generates. When this occurs, the core temperature drops.A structure in the brain called the hypothalamus regulates body temperature. Findings show that when someone is exposed to cold, the hypothalamus raises body temperature through measures such as increasing muscle tone and shivering.However, if exposure to cold continues, it will eventually overwhelm the body, and shivering will stop. At this point, multiple organs may stop functioning, which ultimately leads to death. This is why hypothermia is an extremely dangerous condition.Symptoms in babies differ from symptoms in adults, note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Babies may have very low energy and bright red, cold skin.As hypothermia progresses through the stages, symptoms become more severe and dangerous. A 2021 review article describes the symptoms in adults as follows:Mild hypothermiaSymptoms in this stage include:body temperature of 90–95°F (32–35°C)tirednessshiveringhungernauseaskin that is dry and paler than usualfast heart rateincreased muscle toneincreased blood pressuredecline in memory, judgment, and thinking abilityunclear speechloss of control of body movementsfrequent urinationModerate hypothermiaTypically, shivering stops between 86–90°F (30–32°C). Other symptoms of moderate hypothermia include:body temperature of 82–90°F (28–32°C)continued decline in thinking abilitylethargyenlarged and less responsive pupilslow blood pressureslow heart rateslow breathing rateparadoxical undressing, or removal of clothesincreased susceptibility to abnormal heart rhythmsSevere hypothermiaSymptoms of this stage include:body temperature of less than 82°F (28°C)continued decline in blood flow to the brain, leading to unresponsivenesscontinued decline in blood pressure, heart rate, and heart outputincreased susceptibility to abnormal heart rhythmscongestion in lungsproduction of a very small amount of urineloss of reflexesultimately, failure of heart and lung functionTreatment depends on the degree of hypothermia, but the aim is to make the person warmer. It involves first aid and clinical treatment.First aid Anyone with symptoms of hypothermia needs immediate medical attention. Until help arrives, the CDC recommends:moving the person to a warm, dry place, if possible, or sheltering them from the elementstaking off any wet clothingcovering the person with an electric blanket, if available, or dry layers of towels, clothing, or blanketsmaking skin-to-skin contact with another individualhaving the person drink a warm beverage, excluding alcohol, if they are not unconsciousavoiding moving or jostling the person, as doing so can trigger a fatal heart rhythm abnormalityIf someone has severe hypothermia, they may be unconscious. They may also appear not to have a pulse or be breathing. If this occurs, a bystander should perform CPR and continue it until help arrives. Sometimes people with hypothermia who appear to be dead can resuscitate. Clinical treatmentResearch states that clinical treatment may include the following options:Passive external rewarming: This entails removing the person’s wet clothing and covering them with layers of insulation.Active external rewarming: This involves methods such as water immersion and using a heating unit to transfer heat through convection. However, water immersion poses the danger of triggering collapse of the heart and blood vessels.Active core rewarming: This involves irrigating body cavities with warm, intravenous fluids. Other options include the use of warming that originates from outside the body, such as hemodialysis, which is filtering of the blood with a machine that acts as an artificial kidney.A 2018 study provides the following prevention recommendations:Check the weather forecast before going outdoors, and dress appropriately.Avoid drinking alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, as they increase heat loss.Wear multiple layers of clothing, including a hat, scarf, and gloves.Set the home thermostat to 68°F (20°C) or higher, and dress warmly.Keep space heaters, which are an acceptable indoor heat source, away from flammable objects and ensure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work.Place rolled towels underneath home doors to prevent drafts.Check on elderly neighbors, and make sure they have enough heat and food.Dress babies warmly, and limit their exposure to cold temperatures.In winter, unexpected events can occur that pose a danger of hypothermia, such as home power outages and running out of gas while driving. To offset the risk of these events, experts recommend keeping winter survival kits at home and in the car.Certain medications, specifically psychiatric medications, may increase a person’s risk of hypothermia. An individual may consider asking their doctor or pharmacist whether their medication could increase their risk of hypothermia. Home survival kits may include:extra food and wateran emergency heating sourcea fire extinguisher and smoke detectorCar survival kits may include:sleeping bags and blanketshigh calorie, nonperishable foodextra clothing to keep drywater containerwaterproof matchesWhen doctors examine a person, the key symptoms and signs below indicate a diagnosis of hypothermia:body temperature below 95°F (35°C)shiveringimpaired mental statefrostbite, which is injury to body tissues resulting from freezingOther telltale symptoms inlude:frequent urinationfast heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure in mild hypothermiaslow heart rate, slow breathing, and low blood pressure in moderate hypothermiaa long pause in breathing or coma in severe hypothermiaEvidence shows that the diagnostic process should also include blood tests to measure:blood sugarelectrolytes, such as sodium and potassiumsubstances that show kidney functionDoctors may order an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess heart function. They may also use imaging tests, such as X-rays, to assess the effects of a stroke or trauma that led to prolonged exposure to cold. Additionally, a doctor may use other lab studies and tests to detect potential complications and underlying causes of hypothermia.Exposure to cold temperatures or falling into cold water can cause hypothermia.The CDC notes that temperatures do not have to be excessively cold for hypothermia to develop. If the air temperature is 40°F (4.4°C) and someone is wet, they can develop hypothermia.Certain factors or conditions can make an individual more susceptible to hypothermia. These include:extremes of agelow blood sugarmalnutritionskin disorders, such as burns and psoriasisstrokeendocrine disorders, such as hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency, which are conditions affecting parts of the body that produce hormonessubstance use disorderneurodegenerative disorders, such as dementiadilated blood vessels due to conditions such as spinal cord injuriessepsis, which is an extreme response to infectionDoctors diagnose hypothermia if a person’s body temperature falls below 95°F (35°C). Shivering, impaired thinking ability, and frostbite are also key indications of the condition.When spending time in cold environments, someone may not have access to a thermometer to take their temperature. With this in mind, it helps to be familiar with the symptoms of hypothermia. Even mild symptoms indicate the need for immediate medical attention.Employing prevention measures, such as checking the weather forecast before going out, can reduce the likelihood of hypothermia. Keeping a winter survival kit in the home and the car could enable people to survive prolonged exposure to cold.
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