Symptoms of Low Body Temperature
When the body temperature drops below the temperature that is necessary to maintain primary body functions, hypothermia occurs. According to the medical definition, hypothermia occurs when the temperature of the body goes below 35 degrees C, or 95 degrees F.
When one’s body temperature regulation is overwhelmed due to a cold environment, hypothermia occurs. Hypothermia is categorized into two types: accidental hypothermia and intentional hypothermia. Accidental hypothermia occurs from exposure to cold, which causes the body temperature to lower. When the lowered body temperature is induced by a medical procedure, it causes intentional hypothermia. In hypothermia, the temperature of the body is less than 95 degrees F. The body may lose heat due to immersion in cold water or due to exposure to cold weather. In the young and the elderly, the body’s ability to regulate its temperature is not as efficient. People with mental illness, alcohol or drug problems, or those taking certain medications may be at risk of developing symptoms. The body temperature may decrease due to medical diseases or conditions, hence, it may not be able to regulate its internal temperature.
Hypothermia has four grades:
- Mild: The temperature of the body is between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius.
- Moderate: The temperature of the body is between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius.
- Severe: The temperature of the body is between 20 and 28 degrees Celsius
- Profound: The temperature of the body is less than 20 degrees Celsius.
A strong indicator in the early stages of hypothermia is mild to medium shivering. Along with this, numbness of the extremities is another factor. Hand movement becomes restricted as blood vessels constrict. As the hypothermia becomes more serious, the rest of the extremities experience restriction in their movements. As the victim’s hair stands on end, the body will experience goose bumps all over. This is the body’s natural way of keeping itself warm. The victim feels a warm sensation as the hypothermia sets in; the person may feel as if the coldness is fading, however, this may indicate that the hypothermia is actually getting worse. The use of muscles will become greatly restricted and the victim will become tired. As the victim seems to be dazzled and aloof, they make limited use of their muscles, and this makes movement very rough. In an attempt to keep the body warm, the blood vessels contract to their maximum extent, thus making the skin turn pale. Smaller appendages, such as the ears, toes, and fingers, will turn bluish. Shivering will become violent as the final stage of hypothermia sets in.
As the muscles of the body become useless, shivering will end. This happens once the body has succumbed to the final stages of hypothermia. Movement by the victim will be nearly impossible and the skin will appear blue and swollen. The heart rate and pulse decrease, and the organs fail as well. The body becomes clinically dead as the brain passes.
- The shivering of the body is not under voluntary control
- The person can still walk and talk, but they cannot do complete motor functions
- Vasoconstriction to the toes, fingers, etc.
- The level of consciousness reduces
- Fine motor coordination is lost, especially due to restricted peripheral blood flow (this happens in the hands)
- Speech is slurred
- Shivering is violent
- Behavior is irrational, wherein the person is unaware that they are cold and may start removing their clothes
- In this form, violent shivering occurs, then pauses. To counteract the continually dropping core temperature, the heat output from burning glycogen in the muscles is insufficient. To conserve glucose, the body shuts down its shivering.
- To conserve heat, the person may curl up into the fetal position
- The pupils become dilated and the skin becomes pale
- The rate of pulse decreases
- The body tries to move into hibernation by shutting down all peripheral blood flow and reducing the heart rate and breathing rate. Vasoconstriction helps to retain heat and to control heat from the head, since the body does little to control heat loss.
- The body is in a state of metabolic icebox at 30 degrees Celsius. The person may actually be alive even though they may look dead. Their breathing may become erratic if treatment is not initialized. Cardiac arrhythmias may develop and the level of consciousness will continue to fall.
Stages of Hypothermia
- Early stage: A person entering the early stage of hypothermia may start to shake and shiver. In an attempt to keep itself warm, the body reacts to cold. The risk of stroke, hypertension, and heart attack is increased. Shaking at this stage could be mild and go unnoticed.
Mild or moderate stages: The body may move into a serious stage of hypothermia if the body is not relieved in some manner. The person will start to shake violently. The following may also happen:
- While trying to communicate, the person may start mumbling
- The coordination suffer; it will become difficult to complete even simple tasks that require only basic coordination.
- They may stumble a bit as they walk
- They may begin to grumble and complain
- The person may be oblivious to their mumbles, stumbling, fumbling, and grumbles. To an observer, the person may seem to be outwardly alert; to protect the body organs, the body rushes to physically pale the face, making the signs of this clear. The extremities also turn bluish.
- Severe stage: The person’s physiological processes, such as heart rate and respiration, may begin to falter when hypothermia moves to its final stage. In this, the symptoms of the person become severe; the outer parts of the body, such as the hands, may become useless; shivering may cease; confusion, stumbling, and irrational behavior become apparent; and, finally, all the major organs fail.
The severity of hypothermia is determined based on the signs and symptoms expressed by the individual. The symptoms are graded as mild, moderate, or severe. However, the following symptoms occur as the hypothermia progresses and can range from mild to severe:
- Mild hypothermia symptoms: These include fatigue, shivering, nausea, mild confusion, hunger, and increased respiratory rate. There may be difficulty with coordination and speech as well.
- Moderate hypothermia symptoms: The person may find it difficult to do certain tasks and may experience slurred speech.
- Severe hypothermia symptoms: The shivering stops, there is a decline in consciousness, the pulse may become weak or irregular, breathing may become slow and shallow, and there is extreme confusion, such as extreme risk-taking behavior or removing of one’s clothes. Sometimes it may result in coma, which can cause death.
Symptoms of Hypothermia in Children
Since infants and young children have a larger surface area compared to body weight, they are more likely to develop hypothermia compared to older children since they can lose body weight faster.
- In mild hypothermia or cold stress, the body temperature lowers to 36-36.4 degrees Celsius.
- In moderate hypothermia, the body temperature lowers to 32-35.9 degrees Celsius.
- In severe hypothermia, the body temperature falls to less than 32 degrees Celsius.
In infants and young children, these temperature levels help to assess their hypothermia level. Some clues of hypothermia include:
- A weak cry
- Low energy level
- Skin becomes reddish and cold
- An armpit or rectal temperature that is below 36 degrees Celsius
- Extremities become cold and there is a cold feeling in the abdomen
- Poor feeding
- Heart arrhythmia
The following symptoms may be shown in chronic hypothermia:
- No weight gain
- Weight loss
- Inability to thrive
Many may have a combination of symptoms.