Medskl has a great video explaining Hypothermia


Understanding Hypothermia: Causes, Symptoms, Stages, and Paramedic Treatment

Hypothermia is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing the core body temperature to drop below the normal range of 95-99°F (35-37°C). This drop in temperature can lead to various physiological changes that affect the body’s ability to function properly. As paramedics, understanding the pathology behind hypothermia, its causes, and the signs and symptoms at different stages is crucial for providing effective and timely treatment to patients in cold environments.

Pathology Behind Hypothermia:
The body relies on a delicate balance between heat production and heat loss to maintain its core temperature within a narrow range. In cold conditions, the body attempts to conserve heat by vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) and shivering (involuntary muscle contractions). However, if exposed to extreme cold for a prolonged period or if submerged in cold water, the body’s ability to generate heat is overwhelmed, leading to hypothermia.

Causes of Hypothermia:
Hypothermia can occur in various situations, including exposure to cold weather, immersion in cold water, inadequate clothing, or prolonged periods in an unheated environment. Certain factors can increase the risk of hypothermia, such as advanced age, alcohol or drug use, and medical conditions that affect the body’s temperature regulation.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypothermia:
Hypothermia presents with a range of symptoms, and its severity is categorized into three stages:

  1. Mild Hypothermia (Core temperature: 90-95°F / 32-35°C):
  • Shivering and muscle stiffness
  • Cold and pale skin
  • Numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Impaired coordination and difficulty with fine motor skills
  1. Moderate Hypothermia (Core temperature: 82-90°F / 28-32°C):
  • Intense shivering that may cease as hypothermia worsens (known as paradoxical undressing)
  • Slurred speech and confusion
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse and decreased level of consciousness
  1. Severe Hypothermia (Core temperature: Below 82°F / 28°C):
  • Absence of shivering (body’s inability to produce heat)
  • Loss of consciousness or unconsciousness
  • Very slow or absent breathing
  • Dilated pupils and potentially life-threatening arrhythmias

Paramedic Treatment for Hypothermia:
When encountering a patient with suspected hypothermia, paramedics must act promptly to prevent further complications and deterioration. Here’s the step-by-step approach for treating hypothermic patients:

  1. Scene Safety: Ensure the safety of both the patient and the rescue team in the cold environment.
  2. Gentle Handling: Handle the patient gently to avoid causing cardiac arrhythmias due to rough movements.
  3. Remove Wet Clothing: If the patient’s clothes are wet, remove them carefully and replace them with dry, warm blankets or clothing.
  4. Passive Rewarming: In mild cases, passive rewarming with dry clothing and warm blankets may be sufficient.
  5. Active Rewarming: For moderate to severe hypothermia, active rewarming methods are necessary. Use heating pads, warmed IV fluids, or radiant heat sources to increase the patient’s temperature gradually.
  6. Airway Management: Ensure the airway is clear and maintain adequate ventilation.
  7. Cardiac Monitoring: Continuously monitor the patient’s heart rate and rhythm as arrhythmias are common in severe hypothermia.
  8. Fluid Resuscitation: Administer warmed intravenous fluids to counteract hypothermia-induced dehydration.
  9. Avoid Rough Handling: Avoid rough movements or aggressive resuscitation efforts that may trigger ventricular fibrillation.
  10. Transport: Transport the patient to the nearest appropriate medical facility as quickly and gently as possible.

Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that demands immediate attention from paramedics. By recognizing the signs and symptoms at different stages and employing the appropriate treatment measures, paramedics can effectively manage hypothermic patients and increase their chances of survival. Timely intervention, proper rewarming techniques, and close monitoring are essential in combating the potentially life-threatening effects of hypothermia and ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients facing this chilling ordeal.