Hypothermia is dangerously low body temperature, below 95°F (35°C).
Low body temperature; Cold exposure; Exposure
Other types of cold injuries that affect the limbs are called peripheral cold injuries. Of these, frostbite is the most common freezing injury. Nonfreezing injuries that occur from exposure to cold wet conditions include trench foot and immersion foot conditions. Chilblains (also known as pernio) are small, itchy or painful lumps on the skin that often occur on the fingers, ears, or toes. They are a type of nonfreezing injury that develops in cold, dry conditions.
You are more likely to develop hypothermia if you are:
Hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than the body can make. In most cases, it occurs after long periods in the cold.
Common causes include:
As a person develops hypothermia, they slowly lose the ability to think and move. In fact, they may even be unaware that they need emergency treatment. Someone with hypothermia also is likely to have frostbite.
The symptoms include:
Lethargy, cardiac arrest, shock, and coma can set in without prompt treatment. Hypothermia can be fatal.
Take the following steps if you think someone has hypothermia:
Follow these precautions:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call 911 anytime you suspect someone has hypothermia. Give first aid while waiting for emergency help.
Before you spend time outside in the cold, DO NOT drink alcohol or smoke. Drink plenty of fluids and get enough food and rest.
Wear proper clothing in cold temperatures to protect your body. These include:
Giesbrecht GG. Cold stress, near drowning and accidental hypothermia: a review. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2000;71(7):733-752. PMID: 10902937 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10902937.
Sawka MN, O'Connor FG. Disorders due to heat and cold. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 109.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Frostbite and nonfreezing cold injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 131.
Zafren K, Danzl DF. Accidental hypothermia. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 132.
Review Date: 10/16/2017
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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