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Hypothermia occurs when body core temperature lowers below 35C/95F. The onset can be subtle and creep up on you. Hypothermia does NOT require temperatures below freezing to occur, in fact more people die of hypothermia in the summer than in the winter!

As tissues cool, their cells don't work properly: The brain and nerves work more slowly, muscles contract with more difficulty and may cramp more easily, and the heart becomes prone to irregular beats.

As core temperature drops, the body will divert warm blood into the core of the body (the head and trunk), allowing the arms and legs (extremities) to become even colder.

 Symptoms of Hypothermia:

bulletMild symptoms include shivering, blue extremities, numbness, tingling, and blotchy skin.
bulletSevere symptoms include decreased coordination (core temperatures below 33.5C/92F), muscle rigidity, slow breathing, and slow or irregular pulse (the heart can be irregular below 32C/90F, and below 28C/82F, heart rate decreases by 50%). This can progress to dilated and fixed pupils, absent reflexes, and cardiac arrest and death below 25C/77F.


bulletDry the victim and cover with blankets.
bulletShelter the victim from wind and water.
bulletProvide heat to the neck, underarms, and groin. Heat only the trunk initially to avoid core temperature after-drop. After-drop occurs in this manner: Extremities cool faster than the trunk. If you re-warm the extremities, their colder blood will re-enter the circulation and actually worsen hypothermia temporarily.
bulletKeep the victim lying down.
bulletAdminister warm fluids only after the victim stops shivering (loss of the shivering reflex signifies significant hypothermia).
bulletAvoid moving/jarring the victim suddenly because this may trigger an abnormal heart rhythm.
bulletCPR may be necessary. Resuscitation should not be stopped until the person's body temperature is at least 95F/35C (never give up: one reported victim recovered in a morgue). All temperatures indicated are rectal measures, which give a closer indication of core temperature. If the victim is cooperative, you may take temperature by mouth or other method.

The essentials to prepare for, and to prevent Hypothermia are:

1. Know the enemies - Cold, Wind, Wetness. Recognize their insidious power. Recognize your personal strength and the strength of those with you.  

 2. Prepare in advance for the worst weather. Wear non-cotton clothing.  Carry or wear complete body protection. Use it before you get cold.

3. Plan to refuel the body. To combat cold you must move muscles to produce heat. Sugary foods and nibble foods are quickly converted to energy. Plan to carry extra food.

4. Always carry a plastic emergency shelter. A small tarp or a large leaf bag can shelter the body from wind and rain. Such emergency gear is not very big and can be a lifesaver on a wet, windy ridge when you are storm bound.

5. Make camp early in a storm. Cold has such a deteriorating effect on the body you must make camp while you still have the energy reserves to pick the best possible site. Remember, the exhausted persons caught in extreme weather may die before a shelter can be constructed. Putting up tents and tarps takes time and energy.

6. Keep moving since moving muscles produce body heat, it is essential that you manage some movement during the cold emergency. Avoid violent motions. You may cause more heat loss through your clothing as well as more energy loss. The best exercise is isometric muscle contraction.

How to set yourself up for trouble on a hike:

  1. Be in poor condition.
  2. Wear cotton clothing.
  3. Get wet.
  4. Exhaust your energy.
  5. Don't eat or drink during the hike.

Symptoms you may recognize as trouble:

  1. Shivering.
  2. Fatigue.
  3. Stumbling.
  4. Poor speech.
  5. Poor orientation.
  6. Careless attitude.

 Signs of Hypothermia trouble in your friends:

  1. Poor coordination.
  2. Slowing of pace.
  3. Stumbling.
  4. Forgetfulness.
  5. Hallucinations.
  6. Thickness of Speech.
  7. Dilation of pupils
  8. Decreased attention.
  9. Careless attitude.

 The Traditional Handbook






Additional Information:

Hypothermia Intro ] Hypothermia Symptoms ] Hypothermia & Dehydration ] Hypothermia: Legal Aspects ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.