Julie J. Martin, MS
Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature. It is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses more heat than it can produce. It is usually the result of being exposed to very cold temperatures. But it can also occur in other circumstances, such as:
People who may have a higher risk of hypothermia include:
Risk factors may also be increased by certain medications and conditions that make it harder for your body to stay warm.
Symptoms of hypothermia usually happen gradually. Over time, mental and physical abilities are lessened. The main symptoms of hypothermia are:
The situation becomes dangerous when shivering stops and confusion and drowsiness increase. Hypothermia is deadly because it causes the heartbeat to slow down, become irregular, and eventually stop.
Normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). Hypothermia is diagnosed when body temperature reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) or lower. Only a special rectal thermometer that reads low temperatures can confirm that someone has this condition.
It is important to act quickly if you suspect that you or someone else has hypothermia:
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and appear to have no pulse. Medical attention is important because, in some cases, people can be saved even though they appear dead.
If you are planning to spend time outside, take the following precautions:
Also, take special precautions with older adults, babies, and young children. If rooms are not kept warm enough, they can be affected by hypothermia even if they remain indoors.
Hypothermia Prevention, Recognition, and Treatment
National Prevention Information Network
Canadian Red Cross
EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113736/Accidental-hypothermia. Updated July 11, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Hypothermia: a cold weather hazard. National Institute on Aging website. Available at:
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hypothermia-cold-weather-hazard. Updated June 16, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Winter weather FAQs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/faq.asp. Updated November 26, 2013. Accessed September 23, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
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