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What Is Hypothermia?

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothermia?

Hypothermia symptoms for adults include:

  • Shivering, which may stop as hypothermia progresses. (Shivering is actually a good sign that a person's heat regulation systems are still active. )
  • Slow, shallow breathing.
  • Confusion and memory loss.
  • Drowsiness or exhaustion.
  • Slurred or mumbled speech.
  • Loss of coordination, fumbling hands, stumbling steps.
  • A slow, weak pulse.
  • In severe hypothermia, a person may be unconscious without signs of breathing or a pulse. 

Hypothermia symptoms for infants include:

  • Cold-to-touch, bright red skin
  • Unusually low energy

 

How Is Hypothermia Diagnosed?

Recognizing the symptoms is the first step in diagnosing hypothermia. A specialized thermometer, available in most hospital emergency rooms, can detect very low core body temperatures and confirm a diagnosis. 

Temperatures for mild, moderate, and severe hypothermia generally range from: 

Mild hypothermia:                               90-95 degrees  

Moderate hypothermia:                     82-90 degrees

Severe hypothermia:                     Lower than 82 degrees  

Since response to hypothermia varies among individuals, temperatures may differ.

What Is the Treatment for Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that needs emergency medical attention. 

If medical care isn't immediately available:

  • Remove any wet clothes, hats, gloves, shoes, and socks.
  • Protect the person against wind, drafts, and further heat loss with warm, dry clothes and blankets.
  • Move gently to a warm, dry shelter as soon as possible.
  • Begin rewarming the person with extra clothing. Use warm blankets. Other helpful items for warming are: an electric blanket to the torso area and hot packs and heating pad on the torso, armpits, neck, and groin; however, these can cause burns to the skin. Use your own body heat if nothing else is available.
  • Take the person's temperature if a thermometer is available.
  • Offer warm liquids, but avoid alcohol and caffeine, which speed up heat loss. Don't try to give fluids to an unconscious person.

If the hypothermic person is unconscious, or has no pulse or signs of breathing, call for emergency help right away. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) should be given immediately.

Because hypothermia causes the body to shut down in ways that mimic death, CPR should be continued, even in the absence of signs of breathing or a pulse, until paramedics arrive or the person is taken to a hospital. 

In some cases for advanced hypothermia, hospital treatment is required to rewarm the core temperature. Hypothermia treatment may include warmed IV fluids, heated and humidified oxygen, peritoneal lavage (internal "washing" of the abdominal cavity), and other measures. Complications during recovery include pneumonia, heart arrhythmias, ventricular fibrillation (a dangerous "fluttering" rhythm of the heart), cardiac arrest (a sudden stopping of the heartbeat), and death.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on October 11, 2012

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