What causes hypothermia?

Although many people may think hypothermia occurs only when you are outdoors in the cold, it can also occur indoors if the temperature is low enough, or anywhere if you become cold and wet. Initially, your body will try to adjust to the decreased temperature, but ultimately the body cannot produce heat as fast as it loses heat and your body temperature starts to drop. Blood is then diverted to the vital organs since the brain and heart are very sensitive to cold. As hypothermia progresses, your organ functions start to shut down.

What are the risk factors for hypothermia?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing hypothermia. Not all people with risk factors will get hypothermia. Risk factors for hypothermia include:

  • Certain medications
  • Dementia
  • Extended periods out in the cold
  • Extremes of age (elderly, infants)
  • Hypothyroidism (low levels of thyroid hormones)
  • Lack of sufficient clothing or heating
  • Malnutrition
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke or brain tumor
  • Use of alcohol or illicit drugs
INTRODUCTION

What is hypothermia?

Environmental hypothermia is a condition in which the body's core temperature begins to drop due to exposure to cold. Anyone who is out in the cold, in a cold room, or who becomes cold and wet can develop hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than heat can be produced.... Read more about hypothermiaintroduction

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

Symptoms of hypothermia include feeling cold and shivering, which may be followed by difficulty thinking, confusion, clumsiness, exhaustion, and ultimately unconsciousness. As you develop hypothermia, much of your blood flow is directed away from your skin and toward your vital organs. As a result, you may become pale and develop a blue tinge in your lips, fingers and toes. However, babies may develop bright red skin as hypothermia sets in.... Read more about hypothermiasymptoms

TREATMENTS

How is hypothermia treated?

Hypothermia is treated by warming your body and removing wet clothing. It is important to focus first on warming the central portion of the body; otherwise, blood vessels of the skin may dilate and your temperature may drop. Once your temperature starts to increase, your extremities can also be warmed. The person should be kept warm and dry, and medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.... Read more about hypothermiatreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Injuries and Wounds


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