BY EGON DZINTARS, MD
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs
when your body temperature drops below 95 F (35
C) and is most often caused by exposure to cold
weather or immersion in cold water. A person with
hypothermia may not be aware of his condition,
because the symptoms often begin gradually.
When body temperature drops, the heart, nervous
system and other organs cannot work correctly.
Early signs and symptoms of hypothermia include
uncontrolled shivering, clumsiness, slurred speech,
confusion and drowsiness. More advanced symp-
toms include feelings of extreme warmth, confusion
and combativeness. It may eventually lead to cardio
respiratory collapse and death.
Hypothermia is possible at any time of year, particu-
larly in cold climates like Montana. A number of fac-
tors can increase the risk of developing hypothermia:
-It is more common in the elderly or very young.
-People with dementia are at greater risk.
-Drinking alcohol, although it makes one feel
‘warm’, will hasten heat loss.
-Certain medications can impair the body’s ability to
People who develop hypothermia because of
exposure to cold weather or cold water are also
vulnerable to other cold-related injuries, including
chilblains (damage to nerves and blood vessels),
frostbite, gangrene and trench foot.
Seek immediate medical attention for anyone who
appears to have hypothermia. Until medical help is
available, follow these treatment guidelines:
– Don’t massage or rub the person.
– Move him out of the cold, and protect him from
– Insulate him from cold ground.
– Remove wet clothing.
– Cover him with dry blankets or coats.
– Provide warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated
– If the person’s breathing has stopped or appears
dangerously low or shallow, begin cardiopulmonary
Guest writer Egon Dzintars is a family practitioner
in Rapid City, South Dakota. He skis at Terry Peak
every weekend and loves visiting Big Sky.