Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- What is hypothermia?
- What causes hypothermia?
- What are the risk factors for hypothermia?
- What are the signs and symptoms of hypothermia?
- How is hypothermia diagnosed?
- How is hypothermia treated?
- When should I call the doctor for hypothermia?
- Can hypothermia be prevented?
- Hypothermia At A Glance
- Find a local Doctor in your town
When should I call the doctor for hypothermia?
In parts of the country where a cold environment is a way of life, many people have minor exposures to the elements and do not need to seek medical care.
Because the brain is so sensitive to cold, medical care should be accessed if the mental status of the patient is affected. This is manifested by a wide range of behaviors, from the person who is mildly confused to the patient who is comatose. As well, it is important to remember that there may be an underlying medical condition that led to the hypothermia that may need to be addressed.
If there is any uncertainty, emergency medical services should be activated (call 911 if it is available).
Can hypothermia be prevented?
While medical emergencies can occur in association with hypothermia (for example, people with diabetes who develop very low blood sugar), most cases of hypothermia are preventable with good planning and good judgment.
- Wear appropriate clothing for the weather.
- Prepare for the worst when enjoying an outdoor activity if cold weather is
a possibility. If choosing to drink alcohol, make certain there is a sober
person who will be responsible for your safety.
- For the elderly and the poor who may not have adequate home heating in the winter, communities should insure that safe housing is available. Shut-ins should have routine social service or family contacts.
Hypothermia At A Glance
- Hypothermia can be defined as a core body temperature less than 95 F or 35
- Shivering is one way the body generates heat to combat falling temperatures
- Brain function decreases as body temperature falls; this happens gradually
and may go unnoticed.
- At low body temperatures, the heart's electrical system may become
irritable and cause a fatal heart rhythm
- Treatment begins with removing the patient from the cold environment and
providing warmth. Wet clothing should be removed as soon as possible and
replaced with warm, dry covering.
- When in doubt, activate emergency medical services (call 911)
- Almost all cases of hypothermia are preventable.
Last Editorial Review: 11/18/2008
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