Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition. It results when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat. Awareness of the causes, symptoms and prevention measures can help you avoid this medical emergency.
Core Body Temperature
Heat is required and produced at the cellular level. Your core body temperature is the level of heat of your internal organs, particularly the heart, lungs and brain. It is also the temperature that is essential to the overall metabolic rate of your body. For normal function, your body must be able to generate heat, retain heat and discharge heat, depending on your level of physical activity and ambient external temperature.
Your body temperature is a measurement of metabolism or the general level of chemical activity in the body. The optimal body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When body temperature drops below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, chemical reactions slow down. This leads to various complications, even death. (1)
Degrees of Hypothermia
Hypothermia occurs when the core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal muscular and cerebral functions are impaired. Hypothermia ranges from mild to moderate to severe.
Mild hypothermia occurs with a core body temperature of between 98.6 and 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, faster breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty speaking, confusion, loss of coordination and fatigue.
The most common cause of mild hypothermia is exposure to cold temperatures without appropriate warm, protective clothing, and immersion in cold water. Mild therapeutic hypothermia is used to improve the neurologic outcome in patients, who have been successfully resuscitated following a cardiac arrest. (2)
Moderate hypothermia occurs with a core body temperature of between 95 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, impaired ability to concentrate or think clearly, and confusion, and irrational behavior, loss of coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness and slow, shallow breathing. (3)