Causes and Risk Factors of Hypothermia

Hypothermia is fall of core body temperature to 35 degree Centigrade (95 degree Fahrenheit) or lower. At this temperature (i.e. below 95 degree Fahrenheit) many of the physiological mechanisms to conserve heat start to fail and symptoms of hypothermia set in. Hypothermia may be primary accidental hypothermia or secondary hypothermia generally secondary to some serious systemic disorder.

Causes of hypothermia:

Primary accidental hypothermia is generally seasonal (common during winter) and occurs commonly in cold areas, but it is also not surprisingly uncommon in warm areas. Hypothermia may also be due to systemic disorders such as sepsis, acute myocardial infarction (MI), extensive burns etc.

Risk factors of hypothermia:

  • Exposure to cold, which may be due to participation in sports (winter sports), occupational (e.g. workers working in oil drilling in the arctic region), inadequate clothing or immersion into cold water.
  • Extremes of ages (neonates and elderly people) are vulnerable to hypothermia. Neonates have high rate of heat loss due to high surface to body mass ratio. Old individuals have lower thermal perception and susceptible to other risk factors.
  • Insufficient fuel to produce heat energy, e.g. malnutrition, especially in case of marasmus, kwashiorkor etc.
  • Hormone related disorders such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, diabetes, hypopituitarism, adrenal insufficiency etc.
  • Drugs and poisons: barbiturates, anesthetics, antidepressants, neuromuscular blockers etc. can produce hypothermia. These drugs and many other drugs reduce centrally mediated vasoconstriction.
  • Ethanol or ethyl alcohol produce vasodilatation and lead to heat loss. Ethanol also reduces heat production and gluconeogenesis and impairment of judgment which may contribute in development of hypothermia.
  • Neurologic related disorders such as CVA (cerebrovascular accidents), Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury etc.
  • Excessive burns, immobility and debilitation etc. can case hypothermia.
  • Multi-system problems such as trauma, shock, generalized sepsis etc. can produce hypothermia.


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