Hypothermia develops once an individual has been exposed to cold temperatures for extended periods of time. It is important to note that the body temperature is regulated in the brain, specifically the hypothalamus which is responsible for recognizing changes in the body temperature and responding properly.
Once the environment becomes colder, the body starts to produce more heat by shivering. On the other hand, if the heat loss is greater than the ability of the body to produce more, the core temperature drops.
As the temperature drops, the body shunts blood away from the skin and exposure to the elements. The flow of blood is increased to the vital organs including the lungs, heart, brain and kidneys. The heart and the brain are highly sensitive to the cold and the electrical activity in these organs slows down as a response to the cold. In case the body temperature continues to drop, the organs start to fail and eventually death occurs.
Indications of hypothermia
As hypothermia develops, the ability of the individual to think and move diminish slowly. Actually, the individual might not be even aware that he/she requires emergency treatment. Various skin conditions might be linked with hypothermia or can occur with normal body temperature.
In most cases, the bodily function diminishes as the temperature lowers. Aside from the coldness experienced and the ensuing shivering, the mental function of the individual is initially affected. The potential threat of hypothermia is its gradual development and since it affects reasoning and thinking, it can be left unnoticed.
The initial nausea and sensation of hunger will progress to apathy as the core body temperature drops. Other symptoms that will follow include lethargy, confusion, slurred speech, loss of consciousness and coma.
Oftentimes, the individual will simply lie down, fall asleep and eventually die. In some instances, the individual might illogically remove his/her clothes before this occurs.
The diminished brain function develops in connection to the drop in the body temperature. Take note that the brain function ceases at the core temperature of 20 degrees C.
If hypothermia is allowed to progress, the heart is subjected to erratic electrical rhythms. An example is ventricular fibrillation which occurs if the core temperature drops below 28 degrees C.
Quick Note / Disclaimer
The material posted on this page on hypothermia s is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage hypothermia, register for a first aid and CPR course with Vancouver First Aid.