A number of factors can increase the risk of developing hypothermia:
Jun. 18, 2014
Older age. Older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia for a number of reasons. The body's ability to regulate temperature and to sense cold may lessen with age.
Older people are also more likely to have a medical condition that affects temperature regulation. Some older adults may not be able to communicate when they are cold or may not be mobile enough to get to a warm location.
Very young age. Children lose heat faster than adults do. Children have a larger surface area-to-weight ratio than adults do, making them more prone to heat loss.
Children may also ignore the cold because they're having too much fun to think about it. And they may not have the judgment to dress properly in cold weather or to get out of the cold when they should. Infants may have a special problem with the cold because they have less efficient mechanisms for generating heat.
- Mental problems. People with a mental illness, dementia or another condition that interferes with judgment may not dress appropriately for the weather or understand the risk of cold weather. People with dementia may wander from home or get lost easily, making them more likely to be stranded outside in cold or wet weather.
- Alcohol and drug use. Alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, but it causes your blood vessels to dilate, or expand, resulting in more rapid heat loss from the surface of your skin. The body's natural shivering response is diminished in people who've been drinking alcohol. In addition, the use of alcohol or recreational drugs can affect your judgment about the need to get inside or wear warm clothes in cold weather conditions. If a person is intoxicated and passes out in cold weather, he or she is likely to develop hypothermia.
- Certain medical conditions. Some health disorders affect your body's ability to regulate body temperature. Examples include underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), poor nutrition or anorexia nervosa, stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson's disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, burns, disorders that affect sensation in your extremities (for example, nerve damage in the feet of people with diabetes), dehydration, and any condition that limits activity or restrains the normal flow of blood.
- Medications. A number of drugs — including certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, narcotic pain medications and sedatives — can change the body's ability to regulate its temperature.
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- Auerbach PS. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Feb. 9, 2014.
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- Hypothermia prevention: Survival in cold water. Minnesota Sea Grant. http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/coastal_communities/hypothermia. Accessed Feb. 12, 2014.
- Cold water survival tips. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. http://www.army.mil/article/51309/cold-water-survival-tips-from-usace-and-uscg/. Accessed Feb. 12, 2014.
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