Mild Hypothermia Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Hypothermia is a serious issue that can be due to a variety of causes and is diagnosed when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If not treated, hypothermia can lead to cardiopulmonary arrest; therefore, it is important to look out for early warning signs and symptoms. [1]

Mild Hypothermia Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to mild hypothermia

Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Mild Hypothermia?

Summary

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses too much heat too quickly which causes your temperature to drop to unsafe ranges. Your body temperature is normally near 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit; however, hypothermia is diagnosed when your temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. When your body temperature drops, your other organs cannot function normally which can lead to multisystem organ failure and death. It is therefore important to recognize the signs and symptoms associated with hypothermia so that you can quickly seek out medical treatment. The treatment that you receive will depend on how severe your hypothermia is when you arrive at the medical facility; however, it may involve noninvasive or invasive methods to rewarm your body. [2]

Recommended care

Mild Hypothermia Symptoms

Main symptoms

As you become hypothermic, your organs such as your heart, lungs, and liver will not be able to function as they normally do. You will experience symptoms that are related to your organs malfunctioning in addition to mechanisms that your body does to try to rewarm itself such as shivering. [3] Symptoms of hypothermia may include the following:

  • Shivering
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Weakness or lack of coordination
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Slowed heart rate and a weak pulse
  • Low energy
  • Loss of consciousness

Mild Hypothermia Causes

he most common cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to a cold environment. This can occur because you are not wearing appropriate clothing for the weather, you do not have heating in your home, you fall into a body of water and are immersed in cold water, you are unable to change out of wet clothes, or if you are simply, out in the cold for too long. [3] You can also develop hypothermia if you are over-exerting yourself, not consuming enough food, or not drinking enough water while in colder conditions. [4]

It is easier to recognize hypothermia related to the cold in comparison to other causes. Disruption to your skin barrier via extensive burns or dermatologic conditions such as psoriasis can cause your body to lose heat more rapidly leading to hypothermia. Elderly individuals are at risk of developing hypothermia when indoors due to air conditioning. Moreover, metabolic disturbances such as hypoadrenalism, hypopituitarism, and hypothyroidism can cause hypothermia. If you have trauma to your head or spine, your ability to self-regulate your body temperature may be compromised which can lead to hypothermia. Furthermore, severe systemic infections can cause hypothermia; this occurs most commonly in babies and in the elderly. [1]

Mild Hypothermia Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to mild hypothermia

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Mild Hypothermia

Treatment

If you experience hypothermia because you are outside, you should try to go inside to a warm, dry location if possible. If this is not possible, have someone stand in front of you to shield you from wind and stay laying down with a protective barrier on top of the ground. It is additionally important to remove any wet clothing. Have warm beverages to help warm your body.

If you are helping someone around you who may be experiencing hypothermia, you should do all of the above in addition to monitoring the breathing of the affected individual. If you have a first-aid kit, see if there is a warm compress in this kit and if so, apply the compress only to the central areas of the body such as the neck or chest wall. Do not apply the warm compress to the legs or arms because this will direct the heat away from vital organs such as the heart, brain, and lungs. Moreover, do not apply hot water or a heating pad directly to the skin. This can damage the skin, or it can cause dangerous heart rhythms.

In severe cases of hypothermia, you will likely need to go to an emergency room for extra, life-saving interventions. The physicians at the hospital will determine what level of support you need to restore your body temperature to safe ranges. You may be covered with warm blankets, or you may receive warm air or warm liquids to help actively warm up your body. [5]

Your doctor will also look at your heart rhythm with an electrocardiogram to make sure that your low blood temperature has not affected your heart function. If your heart rhythm has transformed into a specific type of dangerous pattern, you may need cardiopulmonary resuscitation as a life-saving measure. [1]

Prevention

Hypothermia is a life-threatening disease that can be avoided. It is important to make sure that when you are indoors in your home, your home has heating and insulation such that you can stay warm. Additionally, you should keep an indoor safety kit including a first-aid kit with warm compresses, blankets, dry clothes, non-perishable food, and water accessible in case of an emergency.

Furthermore, if you are planning on going outdoors in cold conditions, you should wear multiple layers of clothing. Smart wool and polypropylene fabrics are recommended for your base layer, or the clothing that is closest to the skin, because they retain heat better in comparison to other types of materials. Wind-proof, water-resistant coats and pants are recommended so that you can stay try. You should additionally cover parts of your body that are most susceptible to heat loss such as your feet with socks, your hands with mittens, your ears with hats, and your neck with scarves. Avoid cotton socks and mittens as this material does not retain heat as well as other materials. Remove any wet clothing as soon as you can to avoid precipitating hypothermia. If you are going on a trip in which you anticipate spending many hours outdoors, be sure to take a first-aid kit without you. Avoid conditions that are expected to have heavy winds because this can exacerbate the cold that your body experiences. Consuming warm beverages can also help heat your body up internally. If you are camping outdoors, you place boiled water into a canteen at the base of your tent or sleeping bag to help warm your environment. Also, ensure that the people you are traveling with are aware of the signs of hypothermia so that you can help each other if someone is in need. [1]

When to Seek Further Consultation for Mild Hypothermia

Hypothermia can be life-threatening if it is prolonged and you do not appropriately warm your body as quickly as possible. If you have symptoms that are associated with moderate to severe hypothermia than you should go to an emergency department as soon as possible for care. Examples of these symptoms include cold skin, pale skin, weakness, dizziness, fainting, feeling drowsy, feeling confused, decreased respirations, or a decreased heart rate. In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to cardiac arrest and/or a coma, thus, it is important to seek further consultation immediately.

Furthermore, if you are experiencing symptoms of frostbite, which also occurs when you are in very cold environments, you should see a doctor quickly. The symptoms associated with frostbite can be localized and include tingling or “pins and needles”, numbness, redness or a pale color to the skin, hardening of exposed skin, pain, swelling, and blistering of the skin. If this area is exposed to the cold for too long, the body part can become ischemic and permanently damaged. Thus, it is important to see a doctor who will quickly evaluate and treat your frostbite by warming the area and recommending surgery if needed. [6]