Hypothermia occurs after exposure to cold, wet or windy conditions. Eventually, with continued exposure to cold temperatures, your body uses up its stored energy and your body temperature begins to fall. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment.
Hypothermia, or low body temperature, is a condition that occurs when your body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). The average normal body temperature is 98.6 F (37 C). Hypothermia is a medical emergency.
When your body temperature is dangerously low, your brain and body can’t function properly. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to cardiac arrest (when your heart stops beating) and death.
Mild, treatable cases of hypothermia are more common, especially among groups of people who are at risk. In the United States, between 700 and 1,500 people die every year from hypothermia.
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Hypothermia symptoms vary based on the severity of the condition. The stages of hypothermia include mild, moderate and severe.
Mild hypothermia means your body temperature is between 95 F and 89.6 F (35 C and 32 C). Signs of mild hypothermia include:
Moderate hypothermia means your body temperature is between 89.6 F and 82.4 F (32 C and 28 C). Signs of moderate hypothermia include:
Severe hypothermia means your body temperature is less than 82.4 F (28 C). Signs of severe hypothermia include:
Hypothermia occurs after exposure to cold, wet or windy conditions. When you’re exposed to cold, your body expends energy to keep you warm. Eventually, with continued exposure to cold temperatures, your body uses up its stored energy and your body temperature begins to fall. You’re not able to warm yourself back up. Symptoms will progress from mild to severe with prolonged exposure.
While most cases of hypothermia occur at very cold temperatures, the condition can affect you even in cooler temperatures over 40 F (4.4 C) if you become chilled from sweat, rain or submersion in cold water. Hypothermia occurs under environmental conditions (wet, cool/cold or windy) that cause a person’s body to lose more heat than it generates.
Although anyone can get hypothermia, certain people, conditions and situations increase the risk of developing hypothermia. These include:
If left untreated, hypothermia can lead to various medical conditions, including:
Healthcare providers diagnose hypothermia by taking your temperature and checking your symptoms. Based on your symptoms and how low your body temperature is below 95 F (35 C), they’ll diagnose you with mild, moderate or severe hypothermia.
Hypothermia treatment includes the prevention of further heat loss and the process of rewarming. If you’re with someone who has hypothermia, call for help and then take the following steps:
When hypothermia is more severe, healthcare providers may also need to:
When it’s cold, you should wear a hat that covers your ears and warm, dry clothing. Older people and children should take extra care to prevent hypothermia by:
If you experience mild hypothermia with no cardiac issues and receive treatment in a timely manner, you should be able to recover with no long-term problems close to 100% of the time. The mortality rate of people with moderate to severe hypothermia drops to 50% even with supportive in-hospital care.
If you or someone you know has symptoms of hypothermia, you should get medical help immediately. In the meantime, you should:
Hypothermia is an emergency. You should get medical help right away if you or someone you know has symptoms of hypothermia. Left untreated, hypothermia can be fatal.
If you have symptoms of hypothermia and a low body temperature, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and should be treated as soon as possible.
Questions you may want to ask a healthcare provider about hypothermia include:
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 F (35 C) and you can’t rewarm yourself. Hyperthermia is the opposite. It occurs when you have an abnormally high body temperature, or when you’re overheating. A body temperature above about 100 F (37.8 C) is too warm. Hyperthermia happens when your body generates or is exposed to more heat than it can release.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You’re shivering. Your teeth are chattering. You’re starting to get sleepy. The signs of hypothermia can come on slowly. While you may not realize it, you need to get help right away. Hypothermia can affect your thinking, which makes the condition even more dangerous. If you or someone you’re with are experiencing any of the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, seek help immediately. It’s a medical emergency that can be fatal if you don’t seek treatment right away. Hypothermia should always be thought about and considered before you or a loved one spend any significant time in cold environments.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/17/2023.
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