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Samantha Daly

Understanding Hypothermia

Understanding Hypothermia

Cold weather can kill, especially without the proper understanding of the causes, symptoms, and treatments for hypothermia.


Your body is designed to regulate its internal temperature. However, when the temperature of the blood in your core (brain, heart, lungs, neck) drops, it triggers a response from the hypothalamus in your brain. The hypothalamus reacts differently in the three stages of hypothermia, and a failure to identify the stages can be fatal to a hypothermia victim.



The Three Stages:


Stage 1. Your body’s first response is to activate your major muscle groups – causing you to shiver. The shivering progresses during this stage from mild to uncontrollable. Your body uses energy in the form of sugar and insulin to maintain the shivering. This is an effective way to raise your body temperature 99% of the time. It is when your body cannot keep up with the rate of sugar and insulin depletion that it becomes stage 2.


Stage 2. During stage 2, your body temperature drops to 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit and your brain modifies its response. Instead of expending energy through shivering, the strategy becomes to conserve as much energy and core heat as possible. To do this, your body shuts off circulation to your limbs and extremities, starting with the fingers and toes. Signs of stage 2 include:

            Slowing/stopping of shivering

            Poor coordination, starting with hands and feet

            Inability to speak clearly


            Confusion and short-term memory loss

            Slow pulse and respiratory rate


Stage 3. Stage 3 begins with a loss of consciousness at a core temperature of 88 degrees Fahrenheit. Pulse and respiration continue to slow to alarming rates. Surviving patients have been resuscitated from 1-2 heart beats per minute and core temperatures as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Often these victims look like they are dead. Do not give up trying to save a hypothermia victim if respiration and heart beats become hard to identify.



What to Do:


EXTERNAL HEAT WARNING!!! A victim in stages 2 or 3 can be killed instantly, if the proper precautions are not taken. As blood to the extremities has been cut off, waste products from the cells still functioning there are building up in the blood. If any kind of external heat is applied to the victim’s extremities, the blood vessels will reopen to the core and the toxic blood will flow back to the heart, causing ventricular fibrillation. This is almost always fatal in hypothermia patients. Sudden shocks or jarring can also trigger this same, deadly response. 

If you cannot get immediate medical help for a person in stages 2 or 3, there are steps you can take to increase his chances of survival. The best thing you can do for a hypothermia victim is to remove any cold, wet clothing and replace it with cold, dry clothing. Cut away any clothing to prevent moving the patient as much as possible. Carefully transport him to a safe, warm location while avoiding any jarring and keeping him flat on his back (If you cannot get him inside, shield him from the cold and wind as much as possible). Cover him with blankets and use warm, DRY compresses (plastic water bottles filled with warm water or dryer warmed towels) to warm his body temperature. *Only place warm compresses on the neck, chest, or groin to prevent cold, toxic blood rushing back to the heart* 

Knowing how to properly identify the early signs and care for someone with hypothermia can be lifesaving. Especially in a SHTF environment, where critical care isn’t accessible. Remember that in order to care for others, you first have to protect yourself. If you also get hypothermia in the act of caring for someone else, neither of you will survive. Be smart about dressing in the proper cold weather attire and bringing hand warmers, hot water bottles, and fire starters with you in any situation that could get dangerously cold.


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