North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

Health

December 8, 2009

As cold winter months approach, watch out for signs of hypothermia

Health Watch By Sherry Mullenix

The North Jefferson News




Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature passes below 95 Fahrenheit (35 Celsius).

When your body temperature drops, your heart, nervous system and other organs cannot work correctly. Left untreated, hypothermia eventually leads to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and to death.

Hypothermia is most often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in a cold body of water. Primary treatments are methods to warm the body back to a normal temperature.

Shivering is your body’s automatic defense against cold temperature — an attempt to warm itself. Constant shivering is a key sign of hypothermia. Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

• Shivering

• Clumsiness or lack of coordination

• Slurred speech or mumbling

• Stumbling

• Confusion or difficulty thinking

• Poor decision making, such as trying to remove warm clothes

• Drowsiness or very low energy

• Apathy, or lack of concern about one’s condition

• Progressive loss of consciousness

• Weak pulse

• Shallow breathing

A person with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of his or her condition, because the symptoms often begin gradually and because the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness.

Hypothermia isn’t always the result of exposure to extremely cold outdoor temperatures. An older person may develop mild hypothermia after prolonged exposure to indoor temperatures that would be tolerable to a younger or healthier adult — for example, temperatures in a poorly heated home.

In such cases, mild hypothermia may result in vague symptoms, and the typical shivering may not be present at all. Symptoms of mild hypothermia not related to extreme cold exposure may include:

• Confusion

• Lack of coordination

• Dizziness

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