What is hypothermia?
Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature brought on by staying in cold temperatures
for a long period of time. This lowered body temperature affects the brain, and a
person's ability to think clearly or move well. Severe hypothermia can also cause
an irregular heartbeat leading to heart failure and death.
While hypothermia occurs most often in very cold temperatures, even cool temperatures
(above 40°F or 4°C) can be dangerous to a person who has become chilled from rain,
sweat, or being in cold water for an extended period of time.
Who is at risk for hypothermia?
The following people are most at risk for hypothermia:
Elderly people, who often have other illnesses, such as heart disease or circulation
problems, or take medicines that interfere with the body's ability to regulate its
Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heat; often these people sit alone
for hours or days at a time in a cold apartment or home; improper nutrition also makes
them more susceptible to the cold
Infants and toddlers sleeping in cold bedrooms
People who stay outdoors for long periods of time, such as the homeless, hikers, and
Half of the elderly people who develop hypothermia die before, or soon after, being
found. However, even young, seemingly strong people, are affected by hypothermia when
exposed to the cold for long periods of time.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
The following are the most common symptoms of hypothermia:
Shivering and exhaustion
Slow, slurred speech, or shallow breathing
Weak pulse and/or low blood pressure
A change in behavior or appearance during cold weather
Stiffness in the arms and legs
Poor control over body movements or slow reactions
In infants, bright red, cold skin and/or very low energy
To determine if the person is suffering from hypothermia, take his or her temperature
with a thermometer. A body temperature under 95°F (45°C) is a medical emergency and
can be fatal if not promptly treated.
What should you do while waiting for medical attention?
It is important that victims of hypothermia receive immediate medical attention. While
waiting for medical attention, some methods of dealing with a hypothermia victim include
Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
If he or she has on any wet clothing, remove it immediately.
Warm the center of the body first—the chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric
blanket, if it is available. Or use skin-to-skin contact, with your own body heat
providing warmth to the victim.
Be careful to not handle the victim roughly.
Warm beverages can also be helpful, but never give a victim of hypothermia any alcoholic
beverage, and never try to give an unconscious person something to drink.
Once the body temperature begins to increase, keep the person dry and wrapped in warm