Hypothermia: what it is, causes, symptoms, treatment and more

With the arrival of the cold, many concerns regarding our health take over our head, after all, there are many existing diseases that are even worse with low temperature, such as bronchitis and asthma .

In addition to our health, our body also suffers a lot from the drop in temperature, and may even freeze or lose more heat than it can produce, as is the case with hypothermia. Most people know the disease very superficially, not knowing what the causes are and how to treat it.

And that is why, today, the article is about that.

What is Hypothermia?

Human beings are homeothermic in nature, that is, their body temperature is always constant, around 37ºC, with slight variations in this number (from 0.2ºC to 0.4ºC). So, when there is a very drastic drop in body temperature, you need to be aware of the symptoms, as it can be hypothermia.

And what is hypothermia? , you must be asking yourself.

Hypothermia is when the body’s core temperature drops below 35ºC. Central temperature is the temperature of the heart, lung, brain and splanchnic organs. When hypothermia is not treated quickly, there can be some complications, including death.

The phases of Hypothermia

The disease can be classified into three stages:

First step

The first stage occurs when the body temperature drops between 1 and 2 degrees. The person has chills, his breathing becomes faster and his hands numb, preventing him from doing everyday tasks.

Second stage

In the second stage, the body temperature decreases by 2 to 4 degrees. The chills are more intense, the movements are slower and the extremities of the body are bluish. Despite being conscious, the person is confused.

Third stage

In this last stage, the chills cease and signs of amnesia appear. The cardiac pulse and respiration decrease, which impairs the individual’s cellular activity and ends up causing the patient’s clinical death.

What are the types of Hypothermia

Hypothermia can be classified into three types:

  • Acute;
  • Subacute;
  • Chronic.

They differ due to their level of severity. Understand what characterizes each one below.

Acute Hypothermia

This type of hypothermia is characterized by a sudden loss of body temperature and is due to high exposure to cold. Acute hypothermia happens because the body loses much more heat than it is capable of generating.

Subacute Hypothermia

Unlike acute, subacute hypothermia is characterized by gradual and longer loss of body temperature.

Chronic Hypothermia

As mentioned at the beginning of the text, it is common for some diseases to worsen in the colder seasons of the year, which ends up causing several consequences, including chronic hypothermia.

In addition to this classification, hypothermia can also be classified for medical reasons:

  • Unintentional or accidental;
  • Therapeutic or induced.

Unintentional or Accidental Hypothermia

This type of hypothermia usually occurs in patients undergoing surgical anesthetics or in trauma victims. It happens due to the excessive loss of heat or the lack of care to prevent the condition from happening.

Therapeutic or Induced Hypothermia

Therapeutic hypothermia is consciously applied to the patient by the medical team and has very specific objectives: treatment of refractory intracranial hypertension, neurological protection after cardiopulmonary resuscitation, during more complex neurological or cardiac surgeries, in some conditions that present with elevation uncontrolled temperature, and others.

What Causes Hypothermia

The major cause of the disease is intense exposure to cold without adequate clothing or complete or partial immersion in frozen water. However, there are other causes for hypothermia, as well as groups of risks more susceptible to contracting the disease:

  • Children and the elderly, as their bodies do not have the ability to maintain a stabilized body temperature;
  • People with mental illness;
  • People with alcohol and / or drug problems;
  • Some medications, such as antidepressants and sedatives .

Certain diseases and conditions can also cause hypothermia:

  • Diabetes;
  • Spinal cord injuries;
  • Burns;
  • Hypothyroidism;
  • Parkinson’s disease;
  • Malnutrition.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

As hypothermia can be classified into three types according to physical and climatic conditions, each has different symptoms. However, there are some who resemble each other.

  • Body temperature below 35ºC;
  • Chills;
  • Difficult speech with a shaky voice;
  • Slow breathing rhythm;
  • Cold and pale skin;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Feeling tired (fatigue);
  • Slow movement.

Symptoms of Acute Hypothermia

  • Body temperature between 35ºC and 33ºC;
  • Cold feeling;
  • Tremors;
  • Motor lethargy;
  • Muscle spasms;
  • Mental confusion;
  • Grayish body ends;
  • Cold skin.

Symptoms of Subacute Hypothermia

  • Body temperature between 33ºC and 30ºC;
  • Somnolence;
  • Muscle stiffness;
  • Changes in memory and speech.

Symptoms of Chronic Hypothermia

  • Body temperature below 30ºC;
  • Immobility and unconsciousness;
  • Dilated pupils;
  • Low heart rate.

Treating Hypothermia

When you notice a person in a situation of hypothermia, follow these first aid measures:

  1. Call an ambulance immediately;
  2. While waiting for specialized assistance, remove the person from the cold place and give him a hot drink (not too hot, so that there is no thermal shock);
  3. Warm the patient’s armpits and legs (can be with thermal bags and blankets);
  4. If the person is wearing wet clothes, remove them as soon as possible, as they absorb body heat, preventing them from maintaining the appropriate temperature.

Medical treatment

Chronic hypothermia needs medical attention and treatment consists of:

  • Hot fluids;
  • Saline solution injected into the vein;
  • Blood reheating;
  • Reheating of the body through masks and nasal tubes.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Are there any complications from Hypothermia?

If the patient with chronic hypothermia is not properly cared for, the following complications can occur:

  • Freezing or death of tissues;
  • Chilblains or damage to nerves and blood vessels;
  • Gangrene or tissue destruction;
  • Nerves and blood vessels destroyed due to the immersion of cold water;
  • Low body temperature can cause a decrease in cell activity, causing the patient to die.

How to prevent myself from Hypothermia

By adapting the following practices to your daily life, it is much easier to prevent hypothermia:

  • Wear suitable clothes on cold days;
  • Protect your head, as about 20% of body heat is lost through it;
  • If you have wet clothes, remove them immediately;
  • Perform physical activities, as the body movements help the blood circulate through the body, reducing its contraction.

If you have any questions on the subject, send it to us through the comments. And do not forget: when you see a person at risk of hypothermia, call an ambulance to receive the appropriate medical treatment.

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