Accidental hypothermia: pathophysiology, investigations and management
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

Accidental hypothermia: pathophysiology, investigations and management

Karen Chivers Nurse consultant, emergency department, Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, England

Why you should read this article:
  • To enhance your knowledge of the pathophysiological changes occurring in hypothermia

  • To increase your awareness of the range of rewarming techniques used in accidental hypothermia

  • To recognise the importance of ongoing monitoring of, and communication with, hypothermic patients

Accidental hypothermia, defined as an unintentional decrease in core body temperature to below 35°C, adversely affects several body systems, including the cardiovascular, central nervous and renal systems. It is classified according to core body temperature from a maximum of 35°C in mild hypothermia to below 24°C in profound hypothermia. Patients with severe hypothermia (28°C-24°C) are at risk of cardiac arrythmias and cardiac arrest. In patients presenting with hypothermia, it is vital to prevent any further heat loss and quickly start rewarming them. Nurses working in the emergency department have a crucial role in supporting the optimal recovery of hypothermic patients. This article explains the pathophysiology of hypothermia, describes the investigations conducted in patients with accidental hypothermia and discusses management and nursing care.

Emergency Nurse. doi: 10.7748/en.2022.e2147

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software


Conflict of interest

None declared

Chivers K (2022) Accidental hypothermia: pathophysiology, investigations and management. Emergency Nurse. doi:10.7748/en.2022.e2147

Published online: 25 October 2022

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