Low temperature of the body can occur due to various reasons. If the body temperature is too low, then medical attention might be required. The probable causes and symptoms are elucidated in this article.
A major cause of low body temperature, which can be dangerous, is ‘immersion hypothermia’, which in simple terms is cold or freezing water that causes one’s body temperature to become very low. Before help arrives, an individual in trouble can HELP himself (literally). In this ‘heat escape lessening position (H.E.L.P.) technique, the individual should position himself in such a way that the knees are bent using his arms, so that they are hugging the chest, a position which helps in conserving body heat.
Low body temperature is medically termed as hypothermia (pronounced: hi-po-THUR-me-ah), in which the body suffers heat loss at a much faster rate than it actually produces heat. Normal body temperature has been identified as 98.6° F (37° C). However, the body temperature usually varies between 97.5° F to 98.8° F (36.4° C – 37.1° C), and hypothermia occurs when the temperature falls below 95° F (35° C). A subnormal body temperature, if left untreated on time, can lead to complete failure of the respiratory system and the heart, anemia, etc. This eventually leads to death.
Note:- The temperature of the body varies by as much as 1° F (0.6° C) in a day’s time, depending upon the activity that one is performing.
When the body becomes cold, the blood vessels tend to contract. This causes the flow of blood to the skin to reduce in an effort to conserve body heat. As a result, the individual starts shivering, which is actually a rapid involuntary contraction of the muscles. This additional muscle activity helps produce heat that helps the body to maintain a safe range of body temperature.
The most common reason for the temperature of an individual to drop is because of extreme cold weather or cold water. Most common causes related to the weather conditions that lead to hypothermia are as follows:
⇛ Wearing wet clothes in breezy or cold weather
⇛ In winter, keeping yourself outdoors without appropriate clothing
⇛ Suddenly falling into cold, chilled water
⇛ Excess exertion, lack of fluid consumption, or not eating healthy food during the winters
However, there can be many underlying medical conditions too that can cause the temperature of one’s body to fall. This condition is generally overlooked by most people who attribute the reason of feeling cold to the surroundings. However, if someone living in the same house as you does not feel abnormally cold like you, then you must visit the doctor for a proper diagnosis. Some of the most common medical causes of low body temperature are:
⇛ Liver failure
⇛ Kidney failure
⇛ Drug or alcohol abuse
⇛ Side effects of certain medications
⇛ Sepsis or widespread infection
⇛ Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
⇛ Addison’s disease (adrenal gland insufficiency)
⇛ Hypopituitarism (dysfunction of the hypothalamus)
The symptoms of hypothermia, apart from the very obvious abnormally low body temperature, include the following:
⇛ Drowsiness and low energy levels
⇛ Slow heartbeat
⇛ Shallow breathing
⇛ Weakness and lack of coordination
⇛ Weak pulse
⇛ Pale and cold skin, along with purple fingers and toes
Diagnosing hypothermia can be rather difficult, as its symptoms are also common with other medical conditions. Hence, if you have been diagnosed with a mild case of hypothermia, then you must go in for a second opinion, preferably from a specialist.
In cases of acute hypothermia, some of the complications which are termed secondary symptoms are loss of consciousness, coma, and in some cases even death. In many cases, the distinction between the primary and secondary symptoms are arbitrary or unclear. Some of the complications that follow acute hypothermia are:
- Cardiac arrest
- Ventricular fibrillation (muscular twitching of the heart)
- Atrial fibrillation (muscular twitching of the arteries)
- Acute pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Pulseless electrical activity or PEA (a type of cardiac crisis which hampers the mechanical functioning of the heart)
- Raised plasma and serum levels
❶ First-aid Attention
Once the patient has been diagnosed with a mild case of hypothermia, the doctor will have to determine the underlying medical cause and recommend a form of treatment accordingly. However, until then, the following emergency care can be provided:
✔ Cover the person with blankets
✔ Share body heat
✔ Make use of warm and dry compresses
✔ Supervise breathing (if breathing is shallow, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation [CPR], only if you are trained to do so)
✔ Render warm beverages (nonalcoholic, warm, and liquids which don’t contain caffeine)
✔ Isolate the person’s body from the cold surrounding
✘ Do not apply direct heat to warm the patient
✔ Be soft and gentle (don’t massage or vigorously rub the patient, as a jarring action might set off cardiac arrest)
❷ Medical Attention
If the patient is displaying an acute case of hypothermia, then depending on the severity, the doctor may give the following interventions to increase body temperature:
✔ Warm intravenous liquids – saline water may be injected
✔ Bodily cavity lavage – lukewarm saline water is used to warm the bladder (by inserting a tube through the urethra), colon (by inserting a tube through the rectum), and the stomach (by inserting a tube through the throat)
✔ Rewarming of the blood – blood is first drawn then warmed (usually via a hemodialysis machine), then recirculated back into the body
✔ Air duct rewarming – a moisturized and humid form of oxygen mask or nasal tube, helps in warming the air ducts, and eventually raises the temperature of the body
In acute cases of hypothermia, the prognosis depends upon how long the patient was exposed to extreme cold conditions, besides his general health. If the temperature of the body falls below 90° F (32.2° C), then the possibility of a complete recovery is usually very bright. If the temperature falls between 80° F and 90° F (26.6° C – 32.2° C), then the chances of recovery are good, but there will probably be some permanent damages. However, if the temperature of the body falls below 80° F (26.6° F), then the patient usually does not survive.
❸ Certain Precautions
- If you are staying or vacationing in a very cold place, then ensure that you and your family are warmly clothed. The risk is high, especially if you are out skiing.
- Do not let your children wander about unattended for too long. Place a hand on their skin at regular intervals to ensure that their body has not become too cold.
- Take special care during the night times when the temperature outside drops further.
- Warm meals and hot soups are an absolute necessity.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is purely for informative purposes, and should not be treated as a replacement for professional medical advice.