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Hypothermia is a medical condition in which the body’s mechanism which is in charge of regulating the temperature gets overwhelmed by a cold stressor. This medical condition can be classified by degrees and it can also be primary or secondary and intentional or accidental. Accidental hypothermia occurs when a person is exposed to cold temperatures by accident, while intentional hypothermia is commonly induced as a means of neuroprotection in certain risky types of situations. When there are no underlying medical conditions causing hypothermia and it is only induced by environmental exposure, it is then referred to as primary hypothermia. Secondary hypothermia is a medical condition which is associated with some other underlying medical condition which causes it. All cases of hypothermia require immediate medical attention and they need to be treated as soon as possible.

Pathophysiology

The normal body temperature is somewhere between 36.5 and 37.5 degrees Celsius, depending on the person. The stable core temperature of the human body is maintained by a constant process of balancing between heat loss and heat production. When the body is resting, it produces 40 to 60 kilocalories of heat per square meter of body surface, mostly triggered by cellular metabolism in the heart and the liver. When the muscles get contracted, the production of heat gets increased by 2 to 5 times, once again, depending on the person. Radiation is responsible for the biggest part of heat loss in the human body. Other ways of heat loss include evaporation, respiration, convection and conduction. Accidental hypothermia is usually associated with convective or conductive heat loss, which are actually direct means of heat transferring. The hypothalamus is in charge or thermoregulation in the human body. Hypothermia may affect all organs and system in the human body, but the ones which are usually the most affected are the CNS and the cardiovascular system.

Epidemiology

It is almost impossible the estimate the incidence of hypothermia because not all cases of this dreadful medical condition end up in a hospital. Only the most severe cases can be encountered for at hospitals. Hypothermia is associated with various social problems such as homelessness, mental illness and alcoholism so it can be considered as a disease of urban areas. The most common areas affected by hypothermia in the United States include Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico and Alaska. Hypothermia also frequently occurs in swimmers, rafters, boaters, climbers, skiers hunters and all others who like to spend time in the outdoors.

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