Hypothermia: an overview and more

Hypothermia (low body temperature) refers to both the illness and the symptom of cold exposure. This happens when the body falls below a certain temperature and cannot warm up. A body temperature of 98.6 degrees is considered normal. Anything below 95 degrees is considered hypothermia. If left untreated, hypothermia can be a medical emergency .

The integumentary (skin) system helps regulate body temperature by controlling heat loss. The body generates heat through cellular metabolism, which is a strange way of saying that life, in humans at least, keeps us warm.

As long as our bodies can generate at least as much heat as we lose, we will maintain our internal temperature. If we lose more than we gain, we suffer from hypothermia.

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Types of hypothermia

There are three main types of accidental hypothermia:

  1. Sudden exposure to cold, such as plunging into cold water or falling into snow. It's worse than being outside when it's cold.
  2. Fatigue or other metabolic disorder that does not generate enough heat, including alcohol poisoning or malnutrition.
  3. Constant exposure to moderate to moderate cold temperatures without interruption. Even chatting outside without a jacket for too long on a cool fall afternoon is enough to develop mild hypothermia, although it is also easily treatable.

Hypothermia is also very common during surgery, due to a combination of cold and skin damage (since the skin has been cut by definition) that allows the heat to disappear faster than usual. Perioperative hypothermia is well documented. and surgeons are looking for ways to prevent this while providing a healthy and comfortable environment for the surgical team.


For millennia, people have known that cold can kill, and that fatigue or exhaustion will make it worse. To truly detect and recognize hypothermia, a thermometer small enough to be used regularly in humans was required. It was invented in 1866 and only became widely used in medicine a few decades later. After thermometers became available, it took a long time to figure out how hot a body should be .

Many people have had to measure and record their temperature to find out how normal it is. And all temperatures had to be measured in the same way: standardization, which had not been done for many years. The first study of human temperatures was published in 1868 and included a discussion of the temperatures of more than 25,000 subjects with various diseases. Most of the temperatures were measured below the armpit (middle jaw), which is a notoriously inaccurate method .

Even in the early years of using temperature as a diagnostic tool, doctors knew that patients could not tolerate low temperatures, but the condition did not have a name of its own. The term "hypothermia" did not appear in print until around 1880 and meant a variety of things, from cold hands to "intolerance" of cold. It was not clearly defined as doctors know it today, until the 20th century.

It was well known that hypothermia (despite the lack of a real name) could be caused by exposure to cold, and the role of alcohol intoxication in hypothermia was immediately identified. The idea that hypothermia can occur during surgery is a relatively modern implementation .

Symptoms of hypothermia.

The signs and symptoms of hypothermia depend on the severity of the condition. At first, there are only tremors and usually a feeling of discomfort. The patient may move the fingers uncomfortably .

As hypothermia progresses, it causes more and more fine motor problems, fatigue, confusion, loss of consciousness, and eventually death.


Hypothermia is caused by the loss of more heat than the body can generate. The most common cause of hypothermia is being in a cold environment. A cold environment does not necessarily mean being outdoors; people under anesthesia may be more prone to hypothermia due to impaired thermoregulatory mechanisms. Other causes or risk factors include surgical injuries or wounds, fatigue, and alcohol poisoning. For babies, sleeping in cold rooms can be a risk factor.


To make a diagnosis of hypothermia , it is necessary to obtain an accurate temperature below a certain threshold. The combination of the actual temperature and the patient's signs and symptoms determines whether hypothermia is considered mild, moderate, or severe.


Prevention of hypothermia requires storing more heat than the patient loses through the skin. Treatment for hypothermia uses the same methods as for preventing hypothermia, but as a result, heat is transferred to the body, rather than stopping its loss.

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In most cases, the prevention or treatment of hypothermia can be done simply until the patient is identified as being in a cold environment, and then the patient is removed from the cold environment (entering on a cold night) or Precautions are taken to trap heat in the body (blankets, gloves, jackets, and a cup of hot chocolate).

Mild hypothermia does not matter much if it does not go unnoticed, but it is extremely important not to underestimate moderate or severe hypothermia. Shaking is good. This means that the hypothermia is still mild and can be easily relieved. Once the shaking stops, you need to take the situation seriously and take steps to keep the patient warm and then begin the rewarming process.

Better cold and dry than cold and wet. If a patient gets wet, he loses heat 25 times faster than if he were dry. Take off wet clothes. It may seem counterintuitive to remove clothing from a very cold patient, but removing clothing from wet clothing and wrapping it in something dry can save your life.

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