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What Happens When Your Body Temperature Drops

Hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, poses risks even in mild weather. Learn its causes, symptoms, and prevention for off-grid living.
What Happens When Your Body Temperature Drops


Do you know what happens when your body temperature drops too low? This condition, called hypothermia, can occur even in mild weather and is a serious health risk. In this blog post, we will guide you through the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for hypothermia so you can be better prepared for living off-grid. 

So let’s get warmed up!

Key Takeaways

  • Hypothermia is a serious medical condition where the body’s core temperature drops below 95°F, which can lead to organ failure and potentially life-threatening complications.
  • Causes of hypothermia include exposure to cold temperatures, inadequate heat generation due to fasting or malnutrition, age extremes (very young or elderly individuals), low blood sugar, endocrine disorders, skin disorders, impaired response to cold stress, and certain medications.
  • Symptoms of hypothermia may include shivering uncontrollably, numbness in the hands, slurred speech and confusion. Hypothermia progresses through three stages: mild (body temperature drops below 95°F), moderate (body temperature between 82°F and 90°F), and severe (body temperature below 82°F).
  • Risk factors for hypothermia include poor blood circulation, inadequate clothing for extreme temperatures especially in adults aged 30-49 years old who are also at higher risk compared to other age groups. Men are ten times more likely than women to be affected by hypothermia. Hypothermia can lead to multiple organ system failure if left untreated or not managed properly.

Understanding Hypothermia

Man risking hypothermia in the cold wilderness

Hypothermia is defined as a condition where the body’s core temperature drops below 95° F, leading to potentially life-threatening complications.

Definition of hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This drop in temperature disrupts normal bodily functions, including heart and nervous system function, leading to potentially life-threatening complications such as organ failure.

Hypothermia can strike at any time of year, even during summer months. It is not always triggered by freezing temperaturessudden weather changes and wet clothing can also spur on this dangerous condition.

Weather does not necessarily have to be extremely cold for hypothermia to set in. Even relatively mild conditions are enough if they cause the body to lose heat faster than it can generate warmth.

Causes of low body temperature

Understanding what leads to a drop in body temperature is crucial for survivalists.

  1. Excessive cold stress: Exposure to low temperatures, especially in harsh weather conditions, can speed up the body’s heat loss. This subsequently results in a decrease in body temperature.
  2. Inadequate heat generation: The human body relies on its metabolic activities to generate heat. If these activities slow down due to fasting, lack of food or malnutrition, the result is inadequate heat generation and low body temperature.
  3. Age extremes: Both very young children and elderly people lack effective temperature regulation mechanisms, making them susceptible to hypothermia.
  4. Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar can reduce the energy available for heat production, leading to hypothermia.
  5. Malnutrition: Lack of proper nutrition impairs the body’s ability to maintain normal temperatures during exposure to cold.
  6. Endocrine disorders: Conditions like hypothyroidism can interfere with the body’s metabolism and lead to a decrease in body core temperature.
  7. Skin disorders: Diseases affecting the skin may disrupt its role as an insulator against cold and contribute to lower body temperatures.
  8. Impaired response to cold stress: Damage or alterations within our central nervous system may affect our physical response to cold, leading the way for hypothermia.
  9. Drug-induced hypothermia: Certain medications such as general anesthetics, beta-blockers, or alcohol can modify our system’s responses and induce lower temperatures.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

The early stages of hypothermia

Recognizing the first signs of hypothermia and understanding the stages of hypothermia are crucial for timely intervention.

Recognizing the first signs of hypothermia

Shivering uncontrollably often begins as the first sign of hypothermia. You might notice numbness in your hands, making it tricky to perform simple tasks like tying shoe laces or opening a candy bar.

Slurred speech or mumbling, as well as sluggish responses can also be early warning signs. Your energy seems drained and confusion sets in. You may even feel warm despite the cold – a clear indication that your body temperature is dropping below its normal range of 97°F (36°C) to 99°F (37°C).

These signs warn you that your body is losing heat faster than it can produce, which means you need to take immediate action to prevent mild hypothermia from progressing into more severe stages.

Understanding the stages of hypothermia

Hypothermia unfolds in three distinct stages, each carrying unique symptoms and risks. This unfolding can happen year-round, not just in winter.

  1. Mild Hypothermia: The body temperature drops below 95° F but remains above 90° F. At this stage, people may experience rapid breathing and a faster heartbeat as the body tries to generate heat. They may also feel cold and start shivering uncontrollably, show signs of fatigue or lethargy, and have difficulty with fine motor tasks due to numb hands.
  2. Moderate Hypothermia: The body temperature lies between 82° F and 90° F. Symptoms intensify from the mild stage – shivering becomes violent, speech becomes slow and slurred as muscles are impaired by the cold temperature, confusion sets in, and breathing may become labored.
  3. Severe Hypothermia: Once the body’s core temperature goes below 82° F, it enters a critical state where it starts shutting down to preserve vital organ function. Signs include cessation of shivering as the body can no longer produce heat to combat cold, decreased heart rate leading to weak pulse or even cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness which can be mistaken for drunkenness or sleepiness in some cases.

The Dangers of Hypothermia

A woman suffering in the cold from hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that can lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

Risk factors for hypothermia

Hypothermia can occur when your body temperature drops below 95°F. It is important for survivalists to be aware of the risk factors that can increase the chances of developing hypothermia. These include:

  1. Poor blood circulation: When blood flow to certain parts of the body is restricted, such as in conditions like diabetes or peripheral artery disease, it can impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
  2. Inadequate clothing: Not being properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures increases the risk of heat loss and hypothermia. Wearing multiple layers, insulating materials, and protective gear can help prevent this.
  3. Age: Adults between the ages of 30 to 49 are more likely to be affected by hypothermia compared to other age groups. Older adults, especially those over 65, are also at a higher risk due to decreased ability to generate body heat and a reduced sense of cold.
  4. Gender: Men are ten times more likely than women to be affected by hypothermia. This may be due to physiological differences, such as higher muscle mass and lower percentage of body fat in men.

The potential complications associated with hypothermia

Hypothermia, when left untreated or not managed properly, can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening complications. One of the main dangers is multiple organ system failure.

When your body temperature drops below normal levels, it affects the function of your heart, nervous system, and other vital organs. This can result in cardiac dysfunctionneurologic dysfunction, and even metabolic dysfunction.

Additionally, hypothermia puts a significant strain on your body’s core temperature regulation mechanisms. If not addressed promptly, severe hypothermia can lead to organ damage and failure.

Another important point to note is that drug-induced hypothermia caused by certain medications can also contribute to complications associated with hypothermia. It’s crucial for individuals who are at risk or using such medications to be aware of this potential risk.

Furthermore, it’s essential to understand that the mortality rate for moderate to severe cases of hypothermia remains high, even with supportive medical care provided in hospitals.

This highlights the importance of early intervention and seeking proper medical treatment as soon as possible if you suspect someone has hypothermia.

Diagnosing Hypothermia

A man's face showing the early stages of hypothermia

Medical professionals diagnose hypothermia by assessing the person’s body temperature, symptoms, and exposure to cold conditions.

How hypothermia is diagnosed

Hypothermia can be diagnosed based on the symptoms experienced by the individual. One of the main indicators is a core body temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).

This low body temperature is usually a clear sign of hypothermia. In some cases, additional diagnostic tests, such as blood tests and imaging scans, may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible conditions.

By recognizing these symptoms and conducting appropriate tests, medical professionals can accurately diagnose hypothermia and begin treatment promptly to prevent further complications.

When to seek medical help

If you or someone you are with shows signs of hypothermia, it is important to seek medical help immediately. This is especially crucial if the person’s body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C) or if they have moderate to severe hypothermia.

Medical professionals can provide the necessary treatment and support to prevent further complications and restore the body’s core temperature. Remember that hypothermia can be life-threatening, so don’t hesitate to call for medical assistance in case of any suspicion.

Treating Hypothermia

A rescue team assisting a hiker suffering from hypothermia

Administering first aid for hypothermia can include removing wet clothing, wrapping the person in a warm blanket, and providing warm fluids if conscious.

First aid for hypothermia

Recognizing the signs of hypothermia is crucial for providing prompt first aid. If you come across someone with symptoms of hypothermia, take the following steps:

  • Move the person to a warm and dry location.
  • Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry layers or blankets.
  • Cover the person’s head to prevent further heat loss.
  • Ensure their airway is clear and check their breathing and pulse.
  • If they are conscious, provide warm drinks (non-alcoholic) or high-calorie snacks if available.
  • Share your body heat by making physical contact or using hot packs/warm water bottles wrapped in towels.
  • In severe cases, seek immediate medical attention.

Medical treatment for severe hypothermia

Severe hypothermia requires immediate medical treatment. Here are some important points to know about the medical treatment for severe hypothermia:

  • Severe hypothermia should be treated as a medical emergency.
  • Immediate medical care is necessary for individuals with severe hypothermia.
  • Frostbite, which can occur alongside severe hypothermia, should also be treated with immediate medical care or by bringing the affected individual into a warm room.
  • Rubbing or massaging the frostbitten area should be avoided. as this can cause further damage.
  • To warm the affected area, warm water or body heat can be used, but heating pads or direct heat sources should not be used.
  • It is recommended to take first aid or CPR courses to prepare for health problems related to cold weather and learn how to respond to hypothermia and frostbite.

Preventing Hypothermia

A man fully equipped and protected from risking hypothermia while hiking

Prevent hypothermia when outdoors by dressing in layers, covering exposed skin, and keeping dry.

How to prevent hypothermia while hiking

To prevent hypothermia while hiking, follow these tips:

  1. Dress in layers: Wear multiple layers of clothing to trap heat and insulate your body. Choose moisture-wicking materials for your base layer to keep sweat away from your skin.
  2. Wear a hat: A significant amount of body heat is lost through the head. Wear a hat that covers your ears to minimize heat loss and keep your head warm.
  3. Protect your extremities: Use gloves or mittens, thick socks, and sturdy waterproof boots to protect your hands and feet from cold temperatures and frostbite.
  4. Use proper footwear: Ensure that you wear appropriate hiking boots that provide insulation, traction, and protection against wet conditions.
  5. Stay dry: Avoid getting wet from rain or sweat as it accelerates heat loss and increases the risk of hypothermia. Carry extra clothing in case you need to change into dry clothes.
  6. Stay hydrated: Dehydration can decrease the body’s ability to regulate temperature effectively. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your hike to maintain adequate hydration levels.
  7. Pack emergency supplies: Carry essential items such as a waterproof insulated blanket, hand warmers, a whistle, high-energy snacks, and a fully charged cell phone for emergencies.
  8. Be aware of weather changes: Keep an eye on weather forecasts before heading out for a hike. Sudden drops in temperature or unexpected storms can increase the risk of hypothermia.
  9. Travel with a buddy: Hike with at least one other person so you can watch out for each other’s well-being. If one person shows signs of hypothermia or gets injured, the other can provide assistance or seek help if needed.
  10. Know when to turn back: If weather conditions worsen significantly or if you start experiencing symptoms of hypothermia despite taking precautions, be prepared to turn back and seek shelter immediately.

Treating hypothermia on a hiking trip

When encountering hypothermia on a hiking trip, it is crucial to take immediate action to prevent further complications. Here are the steps to treat hypothermia effectively:

  1. Find shelter: If possible, seek shelter from the cold weather. A tent, cave, or any protective structure can help reduce exposure to the elements.
  2. Remove wet clothing: Wet clothing accelerates heat loss and makes it harder to rewarm the body. Strip off any wet clothes and replace them with dry layers.
  3. Initiate rewarming: Start by wrapping the affected person in a warm blanket or sleeping bag. Use body-to-body contact if no other warming methods are available.
  4. Offer warm fluids: Provide warm drinks like tea or soup if the person is conscious and able to swallow safely. Avoid alcohol and caffeine as they can hinder rewarming efforts.
  5. Apply heat packs: If available, use heat packs or hot water bottles wrapped in towels and place them on the neck, armpits, groin, and chest areas.
  6. Seek medical help: If the person’s condition does not improve after implementing these measures or if they show signs of severe hypothermia such as unconsciousness or irregular breathing, call for emergency medical assistance immediately.

The importance of a buddy system

Having a buddy system is crucial when it comes to preventing hypothermia. When you are outdoors in cold weather, having someone by your side can make all the difference in detecting early signs of hypothermia and providing assistance.

Your buddy can help keep an eye on your body temperature and behavior, ensuring that you stay warm and safe. In case of an emergency, they can also provide first aid or seek help if needed.

Remember, when it comes to hypothermia prevention, two heads are better than one!

Conclusion AND FAQ’S

When your body temperature drops, it can have serious consequences on your health. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that can lead to organ failure if not treated promptly. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms and causes of hypothermia, as well as how to prevent it when venturing outdoors.

Whether it’s a drop in nighttime temperatures or being wet from rain or sweat, taking precautions and seeking immediate medical help can make all the difference in preventing severe complications.

Stay safe and stay warm!

What is hypothermia and what causes it?

Hypothermia is a condition where your body temperature falls dangerously low, usually below 95°F (35°C). It can be caused by exposure to cold temperatures, especially when wearing inadequate clothing or spending too much time in cold water.

What are the symptoms and causes of hypothermia?

The symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and weak pulse. The cause of hypothermia is when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, which causes your body temperature to drop.

How can hypothermia be prevented?

Hypothermia can be prevented by wearing warm clothing in cold weather, avoiding prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, and staying dry. It is also important to eat well-balanced meals and stay hydrated to help maintain your body’s ability to produce heat.

How is hypothermia diagnosed?

Hypothermia is diagnosed by measuring a person’s body temperature with a thermometer. A body temperature below 95°F (35°C) is an indication of mild hypothermia, while a body temperature below 90°F (32°C) is an indication of severe hypothermia.

What are the complications of hypothermia?

Hypothermia can cause several complications, including frostbite, frozen body parts, low blood pressure, and a slowed heart rate. In severe cases, hypothermia can even lead to organ failure and death.

What should I do if I suspect someone has hypothermia?

If you suspect someone has hypothermia, it is important to call for medical help immediately. While waiting for help to arrive, you can move the person to a warm place, remove any wet clothing, and cover them with warm blankets or layers of dry clothing. You can also provide warm drinks and apply heat packs or warm water bottles to help warm the person.

Can hypothermia occur without being exposed to extremely cold temperatures?

Yes, hypothermia can occur even without being exposed to extremely cold temperatures. It can be caused by certain medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism or malnutrition, which can affect the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature.

What is the relationship between hypothermia and frostbite?

Hypothermia and frostbite are related conditions as they both occur due to cold exposure. Frostbite is the freezing of body tissues, usually affecting the extremities, while hypothermia is the overall cooling of the body’s core temperature.

What happens to the body as the temperature drops during hypothermia?

As the body temperature drops during hypothermia, several physiological changes occur. The body uses up stored energy to try to generate heat, which can lead to exhaustion and decreased mental and physical function. In severe cases, the organs may begin to shut down.

How does hypothermia affect different parts of the body?

Hypothermia can affect different parts of the body, including the extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, and nose. These body parts are more susceptible to frostbite due to their exposure to cold temperatures.

Picture of Matt New

Matt New

Living off-grid since 2012 with my wife Amy and dog MJ in the jungles of Costa Rica. Co-creater of the award winning Fusion Home.

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