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Acute Hypothermia


Hypothermia is a condition that develops when body temperature drops below 95˚F (35˚C). Acute means the condition starts suddenly, gets worse quickly, and lasts a short time. Hypothermia can happen if your body loses too much heat or cannot keep a constant temperature. Hypothermia is classified according to temperature. Mild is 90-95˚F (32.2-35˚C). Moderate is 82.4-89.9˚F (28-32.1˚C). Severe is below 82.4˚F (28˚C).


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


  • Central line: A central line may be placed in a blood vessel near your heart to monitor temperature changes.
  • Vital signs: Healthcare providers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. Thermometers placed in your ear, esophagus, bladder, or rectum will measure your temperature at all times.
  • Heart monitor: This is also called an EKG or ECG. Sticky pads are placed on your skin to record your heart's electrical activity. An EKG will show if your heart is beating too quickly or too slowly.
  • Intake and output: Healthcare providers will measure the liquids you receive and how much you urinate.
  • EEG: Small pads or metal discs are put on your head. Each has a wire that is hooked to a machine. The machine shows decreased brain activity.


  • Blood tests: Healthcare providers will take samples of your blood to check your electrolyte (body salt) levels and liver and kidney function. These tests will help show the amount of damage caused by hypothermia. Checks of your cardiac enzyme levels help find signs of heart damage.
  • Blood gases: These tests are also called arterial blood gases (ABGs). Blood is taken from an artery to measure oxygen, acids, and carbon dioxide levels in your blood.
  • X-rays: X-rays of your neck, chest and abdomen can show if you have injuries. A chest x-ray can show if you have pneumonia or pulmonary edema from hypothermia.


You may need to have frostbite treated. You may also need treatment for any health condition that is causing your hypothermia. Healthcare providers may use the following to rewarm you:

  • Warm air circulation: Healthcare providers use a device to circulate warm air around your body.
  • IV liquids: Healthcare providers use an IV to flush warm liquids into your stomach, intestines, or bladder.
  • Airway warming: Tubes are placed to keep your airway open while you receive warm, moist oxygen.
  • Blood warming: Your blood is cycled through a warming machine and returned to your body.


You may be given medicines to treat health conditions that caused your hypothermia or to prevent complications. You may receive any of the following medicines, depending on the cause and severity of your hypothermia:

  • Heart medicines: Medicines called antiarrhythmics help restore your heartbeat to a normal rhythm.
  • Antibiotics: These medicines can help prevent or treat an infection caused by bacteria.

External pacemaker:

Heart damage can occur with hypothermia. If your heartbeat does not return to normal with other treatments, a pacemaker can keep your heartbeats regular.


  • Hypothermia affects all of your body functions. Blood flow to your muscles and tissues decreases. This can damage your blood vessels and lead to muscle and tissue death. You may develop pneumonia (lung infection) or pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). Heart, liver, and kidney functions may slow or stop. You may lose fingers, toes, or other parts if frostbite damage is severe.
  • Damage to your bladder and kidneys may not return to normal. Hypothermia changes the way your blood clots. You may bleed more or develop blood clots, which can cause organ failure, a stroke, or a heart attack. Hypothermia can be life-threatening, especially if you have other health problems.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.