Hypothermia happens when the body temperature falls below 35 degrees C (95 degrees F). Normal body temperature is around 37 degrees C (98.6 degrees F).


Hypothermia can quickly become life threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency.



Hypothermia is usually caused by being in a cold environment. It can be triggered by a combination of things including being exposed to the cold for a long time. This may be outside in cold conditions or indoors in a poorly heated room or being in cold water.


Particularly vulnerable are elderly patients who often do not generate much body heat, due possibly to lack of mobility, poor heating or inadequate or inappropriate clothing. Young children are also vulnerable as their temperature control centre in the brain is under developed. The homeless suffer from lack of protection from the cold weather, poor intake of food, lack of activity and illness. All these can increase the risk of hypothermia.


Signs & Symptoms:

When your body gets cold it will try to prevent further heat loss by:

  • Shivering.
  • Restricting blood flow to the skin.
  • Releasing hormones to generate heat.


However, these responses use up energy and may not be enough to maintain body temperature if you have been exposed to the cold for a long time. When the body runs out of energy it gradually begins to shut down. Shivering stops and your heart beat begins to slow.

  • Shivering.
  • Tiredness.
  • Confusion.


The symptoms vary depending on how low the body temperature has dropped. Mild symptoms include (but as the body temperature drops):

  • Shivering becomes violent.
  • A person is likely to become delirious.
  • They may struggle to breath.
  • The may lapse into unconsciousness.
  • Babies may by limp, refuse to feed or be unusually quiet.



  • Protect from weather. Remove wet clothing.
  • Cover with warm dry clothing.
  • If patient is young and able to climb into bath unaided, bathe them in warm water (40 degrees C/104 degrees F). DO NOT allow the elderly to enter a bath.
  • If bath not possible, wrap them up in warm blankets and try to raise the room temperature to (25 degrees C/77 degrees F).
  • Give patient warm drinks and food.
  • If in any doubt dial 999.



  • Do not give patient alcohol.
  • Do not place patient in front of a direct heat source.
  • Do not warm babies or the elderly to quickly.



Handle a hypothermic patient with great care, rough handling can induce cardiac arrest.


We hope you find this article useful. This is one in an alphabetical series of articles addressing various symptoms and their first aid treatments. If you would like more information on related resuscitation and first aid training, please get in touch.


You might also be interested in our blog. This particular post talks about recognising the symptoms of a stroke, and advice on what to do next.


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