Hypothermia
(Extended Exposure to Cold)

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What is hypothermia?

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Hypothermia is defined as a body temperature (core, or internal body temperature) of less than 95 F (35 C). Usually, hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature regulation is overwhelmed by a cold environment. However, in the medical and lay literature there are essentially two major classifications, accidental hypothermia and intentional hypothermia. Accidental hypothermia usually occurs from an exposure to cold that results in lowering the body temperature while intentional hypothermia is body temperature lowering induced usually for a medical procedure. This article will focus on accidental hypothermia. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that, when quickly and appropriately treated, people can recover with little or no consequences.

Body temperature, when discussing hypothermia, is usually termed "core" temperature. This temperature is the internal temperature inside the body. It's a measurement is most accurately done by a rectal thermometer, a rectal probe thermometer that has a constant temperature readout or by a bladder or esophageal temperature device. Temperatures taken by other methods may not adequately measure core temperature.

What are the risk factors for hypothermia?

The highest risk factors for hypothermia are accidental exposure to cold weather or partial or complete immersion in cold water. Consequently, not dressing appropriately for cold weather and loosing body heat or taking chances like walking on a partially frozen river or lake can cause rapid body temperature loss due to cold water immersion. These and similar situations can result in hypothermia. Elderly people and young children are at high risk for hypothermia because their bodies do not regulate their temperatures as efficiently as normal adults. In addition, people that have mental problems or whose judgment is impaired by alcohol and drug use place themselves in situations where they are likely to develop hypothermia (for example, an alcoholic sleeping in a doorway during subfreezing temperatures). Various medications and medical conditions may decrease the body's ability to regulate its internal temperature. Some examples include:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/27/2014

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