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Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature. It is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses more heat than it can produce. It is usually the result of being exposed to very cold temperatures. But it can also occur in other circumstances, such as:
People who may have a higher risk of hypothermia include:
Risk factors may also be increased by certain medications and conditions that make it harder for your body to stay warm.
Symptoms of hypothermia usually happen gradually. Over time, mental and physical abilities are lessened. The main symptoms of hypothermia are:
The situation becomes dangerous when shivering stops and confusion and drowsiness increase. Hypothermia is deadly because it causes the heartbeat to slow down, become irregular, and eventually stop.
In hypothermia, the heartbeat slows. If left untreated, the heart will stop beating.
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Normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). Hypothermia is diagnosed when body temperature reaches 95°F (35°C) or lower. Only a special rectal thermometer that reads low temperatures can confirm that someone has this condition.
It is important to act quickly if you suspect that you or someone else has hypothermia:
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and appear to have no pulse. Medical attention is important because, in some cases, people can be saved even though they appear dead.
If you are planning to spend time outside, take the following precautions:
Also, take special precautions with older adults, babies, and young children. If rooms are not kept warm enough, they can be affected by hypothermia even if they remain indoors.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Heart Association
Canadian Red Cross
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Accidental hypothermia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113736/Accidental-hypothermia. Updated February 21, 2017. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Hypothermia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/cold-injury/hypothermia. Updated April 2016. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Winter weather FAQs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/faq.asp. Updated November 26, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 9/30/2014