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Hypothermia: Don't Get Caught in the Cold

What causes hypothermia and how to treat it

By MedlinePlus

Hypothermia is a dangerous condition in which a person's body temperature drops below 95 degress Fahrenheit (35 degrees Centigrade).

Hypothermia can be deadly, but fortunately, it can be avoided with simple precautions and treated, with best results if it is spotted early.

The people who are most likely to experience hypothermia include those who are:

  • Very old or very young.
  • Chronically ill, especially who have heart or blood flow problems.
  • Malnourished.
  • Overly tired.
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Causes of Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when more heat is lost than the body can generate. It is usually caused by extended exposure to the cold.
Common causes include:

  • Being outside without enough protective clothing in winter.
  • Falling from a boat or dock into cold water.
  • Wearing wet clothing in windy or cold weather.
  • Heavy exertion.
  • Eating or hydrating too little in cold weather.


As people develop hypothermia, their abilities to think and move may decline slowly. They may be unaware that they need emergency treatment. Someone with hypothermia may also have frostbite. Lethargy, cardiac arrest, shock and coma can set in without prompt treatment. Hypothermia can be fatal. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Weakness and loss of coordination.
  • Pale and cold skin.
  • Confusion.
  • Uncontrollable shivering (although at extremely low body temperatures, shivering may stop).
  • Slowed breathing or heart rate.


  • Before you spend time outside in the cold, do not drink alcohol or smoke. Drink plenty of fluids and get adequate food and rest.
  • Wear proper clothing in cold temperatures to protect your body. These include: mittens (not gloves); wind-proof, water-resistant, many-layered clothing; two pairs of socks (avoid cotton); scarf and hat that cover the ears.
  • Avoid Extremely cold temperature, especially with high winds.
  • Remove wet clothing as soon as possible.

Poor circulation associated with age, tight clothing or boots, cramped positions, fatigue, certain medications, smoking and alcohol can also make people more vulnerable to hypothermia. If you have diabetes or circulatory problems see your doctor regularly and maintain good health habits to reduce the risk of blood vessel complications that may put you at risk for hypothermia.


  • If any symptoms of hypothermia are present, especially confusion or changes in mental status, immediately call 911. Give first aid while awaiting emergency assistance.
  • If the person is unconscious, check airway, breathing and circulation. If necessary, begin rescue breathing or CPR. If the victim is breathing fewer than 6 breaths per minute, begin rescue breathing.
  • Take the person inside to room temperature and cover him or her with warm blankets. If going indoors is not possible, get the person out of the wind and use a blanket to provide insulation from the cold ground. Cover the person's head and neck to help retain body heat.
  • Once inside, remove any wet or constricting clothes and replace them with dry clothing.
  • Warm the person. If necessary, use your own body heat to aid the warming. Apply warm compresses to the neck, chest wall and groin. If the person is alert and can easily swallow, give warm, sweetened, nonalcoholic fluids to aid the warming.
  • Stay with the person until medical help arrives.

What not to do

  • Do not assume that someone found lying motionless in the cold is already dead.
  • Do not use direct heat (such as hot water, a heating pad or a heat lamp) to warm the person.
  • Do not give the person alcohol

Based on an article from MedlinePlus.

By MedlinePlus
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