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Hypothermia: First Aid Condition, Causes & How to prevent

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

Are you aware that a decreased body temperature below a certain level can be life-threatening? Symptoms such as excessive shivering, change in skin colour and fast heart rate indicate that a person’s body temperature has gone below the normal range. When the body loses more heat to the environment, decreasing the body temperature, it results in Hypothermia (HTM). Read the article further to learn about first aid for Hypothermia.




What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition in which the human body’s thermoregulation is affected due to a cold stressor. It is a medical emergency that can cause low body temperature to a level that can be fatal.

The human body’s average temperature is regulated between 36.5°C and 37.5°C by balancing heat loss and production. A person can get into Hypothermia if their body temperature falls below 35°C (95°F).

When the body temperature lowers, the nervous system, heart, and other body organs can not function properly. Although it is a dangerous condition, early diagnosis and immediate treatment are necessary to recover from severe HTM.

Hypothermia is classified as:

  1. Accidental Hypothermia: This results from unintentional exposure in a person, such as people caught in a winter storm. 

  2. Intentional Hypothermia: This is induced in people directed at neuroprotection after an at-risk incident, such as cardiac arrest.

  3. Primary Hypothermia: This occurs due to environmental exposure, not an underlying medical condition causing temperature regulation disruptions. 

  4. Secondary Hypothermia: This is due to a medical condition causing a decrease in body temperature below a set point.

Who is at risk?

People who are at higher risk of developing Hypothermia are as follows.

  • Aged people with inadequate clothing, heating, or food.

  • Infants or babies sleeping in cold areas.

  • People addicted to certain drugs and alcohol.

  • People who stay outdoors for a long time such as hikers, hunters, and the homeless.

In an unintentional defence mechanism against cold temperatures, the human body shivers to keep itself warm. Henceexcessive shivering is the first and the most common signof Hypothermia. 

Other signs include the following.

  • Shallow or slow breathing

  • Fumbling hands

  • Weak pulse

  • Low energy and drowsiness

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Change of skin colour to pale and then bright red

  • Lack of coordination

  • Slurred and slowed speech

  • Confusion

  • Memory loss

What causes Hypothermia?

When the human body loses heat faster than its production, it results in Hypothermia. Several causes can lead to it. Some of them are as follows.

  • Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures without protective clothing

  • Wearing wet clothes in cold and windy weather

  • Pre-existing medical conditions such as CNS (central nervous system) trauma, intracranial bleeding, and multiple sclerosis can cause impaired thermoregulation resulting in Hypothermia.

  • Certain medications, such as sedatives, antidepressants, and antipsychotics, can potentially affect the ability of the body to regulate its temperature.


Hypothermia, if it lasts for a long time, can result in the following complications.

  • Frostbite (freezing of body tissues)

  • Gangrene (decay and death of body tissues due to interruption in blood flow)

  • Trench foot (blood vessel and nerve destruction from water immersion)

First aid for Hypothermia

As already mentioned, Hypothermia is a medical emergency, and immediate medical attention can help the person recover. Hence everyone must be aware of first aid tips, so you help a person who shows symptoms. 

When a person’s body temperature falls below 95℉, seek immediate medical attention. If you cannot get medical help immediately, try to warm the person up. 

  • Take the person into a warm shelter.

  • Check if the person is wearing any wet clothing and remove them. 

  • Try to warm the centre of the person’s body, such as the neck, chest, head, and groyne, using an electric heating device like an electric blanket or hot water bottle, if available. Skin-to-skin contact under loose sheets or blankets is also an option to warm the person.

  • Providing warm drinks to the person can also help in increasing the body temperature. But be careful not to give any drinks to an unconscious person. 

  • After you notice the person’s body temperature is returning to normal, keep them wrapped in a warm blanket until he gets medical attention. 

Some people, due to severe Hypothermia, get unconscious and may not seem to be breathing or have a pulse. In such cases, get emergency medical assistance as soon as possible. 

Also, start performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) by giving 30 chest compression by placing both hands at the centre of the chest and two rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth breathing) and continue the process till the person starts breathing. 

Hands-only CPR can also be performed with rescue breaths if you are not trained in giving CPR. Chest compressions help in keeping the blood circulating and revive the person. After the person starts breathing, get the person to a hospital immediately.


Hypothermia can be prevented by taking certain precautions and being careful in cold temperatures. Preventive measures include the following. 

  • Stay warm in cold weather by using a warm protective covering, wearing loose-fitting and layered clothing, and staying dry as much as possible.

  • Keep children safe from cold weather by dressing them in multiple layers of clothes as adults, restricting them from playing in the cold, avoiding letting babies sleep in cold bedrooms, and taking appropriate steps if you notice your children shivering.

  • Do not drink alcohol in cold weather and before going to bed on cold nights to avoid alcohol-associated Hypothermia.

HTM is a condition that can be potentially life-threatening and requires prompt first aid and medical attention to reverse it. Mild cases are not associated with a mortality rate, as most people can tolerate mild Hypothermia. However, studies evaluating the in-patient mortality (death) rate showed a 12% fatality rate in extreme cases of HTM. Hence, appropriate and immediate first aid is crucial to reverse mild and moderate cases of HTM.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some of the frequently asked questions and their answers related to Hypothermia.


What are the stages of Hypothermia?

Stage 1 - Mild HTM 

Stage 2 - Moderate HTM 

Stage 3 - Severe HTM 

Stage 4 - Apparent death 

Stage 5 - Death from irreversible HTM

At what temperature can a person get in Hypothermia?

The human body’s average temperature is anywhere between 97 to 99℉. If the body temperature falls below 95℉, it is called HTM. 

What are the warning signs of Hypothermia?

The warning signs of HTM include excessive shivering, cold and pale skin, confusion, fumbling hands, and drowsiness. 

For how long can Hypothermia stay?

How long HTM stays depends on various factors such as whether the cold exposure was in water or air, how cold the temperatures were, and the person’s age and underlying health. 

What can happen if Hypothermia is left untreated?

HTM being a medical emergency, requires prompt medical treatment. Left untreated, it can lead to complete failure of the respiratory system, heart and eventually death. 


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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