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Hypothermia: causes, symptoms

Hypothermia is a situation where the body temperature of an individual is below 35 ° Celsius. Hypothermia causing the individual’s body temperature to be too low, without prompt management, can be fatal.

Definition of hypothermia

Hypothermia is a decrease in body temperature below 35 degrees Celsius (with a body temperature reference of 37 degrees Celsius).

A situation of hypothermia can quickly threaten the life of the individual and must be supported as quickly as possible.

Hypothermia usually occurs when exposed to a very cold environment, and can be triggered by a combination of different factors, such as a significant duration of cold exposure, living in a home that lacks heat, or a fall in icy water.

The causes of hypothermia

The most vulnerable people to hypothermia are the elderly or people with underlying chronic conditions.

Infants and young children are also at higher risk. Indeed, their ability to self-regulate heat is less than that of an adult.

Beyond these categories of “more fragile” people, anyone may be exposed to a risk of hypothermia, in the context of exposure, more or less long, to a cold environment, without adequate equipment.

Some athletes, such as climbers or skiers, also have an increased risk of hypothermia, and more in the winter season.

Evolutions and possible complications of hypothermia

In the context of not taking immediate charge of hypothermia, the life of the individual can be largely endangered.

Other complications may also be associated: death of a limb (finger, arm, hand, etc.) and risk of amputation, frostbite, cold-related burns, etc.

Symptoms of hypothermia

The clinical signs associated with hypothermia depend on the level at which body temperature has dropped.

However, the general symptoms are tremors, chills, chronic fatigue, increased breathing, cold, pale skin.

The lower the body temperature, the more intense the tremors. The risk of delirium, breathing difficulties and the execution of certain movements may also be associated with hypothermia.

For young children, they may experience hypothermia without changes in their health status being identifiable. Signs can still testify: the child is not very active, silent and calm. His skin is cold and pale and he usually refuses to eat.

A larger hypothermia (due to a greater decrease in body temperature) can also cause a condition: confusion, loss of reason, loss of consciousness, difficulty performing certain movements, slow speech, etc. .

In the most extreme cases, loss of consciousness, stopping breathing, general weakness of the body and dilated pupils may be warning signs.

Risk factors for hypothermia

The major risk factors for hypothermia are:

  • a long duration of contact with the cold, amplified by the wearing of equipment that is not adapted to the environment
  • unheated housing
  • a fall in a frozen water
  • mountain sport practice in the middle of winter

Management and prevention of hypothermia

The treatment of hypothermia begins with prevention. The consultation and the use of the doctor or emergencies must be effective from the moment a situation of hypothermia is suspected.

In a situation of waiting for medical services, care measures are similar to:

  • Move the individual to hypothermia and put in a warmer place, if possible.
  • Once the person is in a warmer place, remove any wet clothing.
  • Wrap the individual in a blanket, towels or any clothing and / or warm clothing.
  • Offer a hot drink (no alcohol), and energy foods (chocolate, sugar, etc.), only if the person with hypothermia is able to eat.
  • To ensure that the individual’s body temperature increases and is maintained at an adequate temperature.

Moreover, in case of hypothermia, some things are also to be avoided:

  • do not take a hot bath to someone who is hypothermic
  • do not massage the limbs and the body
  • do not drink alcohol

In fact, these actions may lead to excessive and too rapid vasodilation of the blood vessels of the body members. This can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure and impact the functioning of certain vital organs, such as the brain, heart, lungs or kidneys.

In the context of severe hypothermia (absence of movement of the person, loss of consciousness, confusion, etc.), the call and the use of emergency services is unavoidable.

During a hospitalization of a person in a situation of hypothermia, medical treatments can be administered to him. These last ones in particular to facilitate the circulation of the blood, disturbed by the hypothermic situation. This management results in a cardiopulmonary bypass or extracorporeal oxygenation.

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