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What Actually Happens When The Body Is Too Cold

5:57 PM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- With the cold snap gripping the metro area this week, many of us may choose to spend more time indoors.  For those who find themselves outside for longer periods of time in these sub-freezing temperatures, it is important to know the signs of hypothermia.

The condition occurs when your temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is close to 4 degrees below normal.  In this scenario, the heart, nervous system, and several other vital organs do not work properly.  

If left untreated, hypothermia can result in complete heart and respiratory failure.  It can ultimately kill you.

Gary Little, MD, Medical Director at George Washington University Hospital says, "In the right setting (hypothermia) can set in within minutes to an hour.  Especially if it's very cold and wet it doesn't take long for the body's temperature to drop pretty quickly."

So here are a few major symptoms according to WebMD:

-Severe shivering

-Lack of coordination

-Slurred speech

-Lack of energy

-Loss of consciousness

-Slow breathing

-Weak pulse

Dr. Little says, "Obviously the main thing is to make sure you eat adequately and appropriately.  Avoiding beverages that are high with caffeine like coffees and some of the soft drinks.  And most importantly avoiding things with alcohol."

Alcohol can dehydrate you and inhibit the body's natural mechanisms to stay warm, like shivering.  Dehydration is also a main issue in the winter months, which is why excess caffeine while outside in the cold for long periods of time is a no-no.

Dr. Little says, "In the winter months people don't pay as much attention to their hydration status because they are not sweating and don't always think they will be dehydrated because of the cold."

 

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