Hypothermia occurs when the body cannot maintain a normal body temperature. Signs and symptoms that may develop include gradual loss of mental and physical abilities. Severe hypothermia can lead to death. For most Americans, hypothermia isn’t a serious risk.

Still, each year nearly 700 people in the United States die of hypothermia. In addition to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, factors that commonly increase your risk of hypothermia include advanced or very young age, substance abuse, impaired mental status and immersion in cold water.

Hypothermia also even occurs in more moderate climates during cold weather.

The problem is more likely to occur among elderly and homeless people. Elderly people may not remember to keep their homes heated properly. Or they may be too poor to pay their heating bills.

Their homes may remain at a constant temperature of 50° to 65°F (10° to 17°C). In the United States, hypothermia is primarily an urban phenomenon associated with alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, and cold-water immersion accidents.

The victims are often homeless male alcoholics. Officially, 11,817 deaths were attributed to hypothermia in the United States from 1979 to 1994, but experts suspect that many fatal cases go unrecognized.

Nearly half the victims were 65 or older, with males dominating every age group. Nonwhites were also overrepresented in the statistics. Among males 65 and older, nonwhites outnumbered whites by more than four to one.

Hypothermia is defined as a core, or internal, body temperature of less than 95°F (35°C). It can occur even at mild temperatures if exposure is prolonged.

The body’s natural defences against the cold consist of restricting the flow of blood to the skin so as to prevent heat loss, along with shivering and releasing hormones to generate heat. These measures are limited and are usually inadequate to maintain body temperature in cold environments.

Causes of Hypothermia

Common causes and risk factors of Hypothermia include:

  • Low ambient temperatures.
  • Heavy exertion, not drinking enough fluids, or not eating enough in cold weather.
  • Wearing wet clothing in windy or cold weather.
  • Age at the extremes (infant or small child, elderly adult).
  • Recent moderate or marked alcohol intake.
  • Falling overboard from a boat into cold water.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • Confusion.
  • Weakness and loss of coordination.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Slowed breathing or heart rate .
  • Loss of heartbeat.
  • Cold abdomen .
  • Poor coordination and balance .

Treatment for Hypothermia

Treatment may include:

  • Avoid suddenly moving/jarring the person because this may trigger an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Administer warm fluids only after the victim stops shivering (loss of the shivering reflex signifies significant hypothermia).
  • Dry the hypothermic person and cover him or her with blankets.
  • Keep the person lying down.
  • Shelter the person from wind and water.
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