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 that may have a higher risk of hypothermia include:
Risk may also be increased by certain medicines 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 very 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˚F (37˚C). Hypothermia is diagnosed when body temperature reaches 95˚F (35˚C) 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 very 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 elderly people and babies. If rooms are not kept warm enough, the elderly and babies can be affected by hypothermia even if they remain indoors.
Hypothermia Prevention, Recognition, and Treatment
National Prevention Information Network
Canadian Red Cross
EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Published October 4, 2011. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Hypothermia. Mayo Clinic website. Available at
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hypothermia/DS00333. Updated May 24, 2012. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Hypothermia: a cold weather hazard. National Institute on Aging website. Available at:
http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/hypothermia-cold-weather-hazard. Updated April 25, 2012. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Winter weather FAQs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/faq.asp. Updated December 3, 2004. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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