Hypothermia is a complex medical condition where the core body temperature drops below normal, leading to various stages of mental and physical impairment and ultimately to death in severe cases if not treated. Initial stages in a person are often displayed by extreme shivering and some mental impairment, displayed especially in impaired speech patterns. It’s that mental impairment sign that indicates you need to act immediately.
Prevention is obviously key. Baring some accidental immersion event, hypothermia should never happen if your clothing system was good and you used skill in your travel style to stay warm and dry. However mistakes happen. Please refer to our Clothing main section for many examples and advice on effective ways to stay warm and dry, and especially on how to configure your clothing system to vent moisture to prevent getting chilled and getting into the hypothermia downward spiral.
Hypothermia is not simple shivering. Shivering is normal and we all use it to warm up. What you read about hypothermia signs, symptoms and treatment on non-medical popular websites, articles or camping books, or in other non-medical documents may not be correct. Again we must state that since we are not medical professionals, we will not be presenting medical advice to diagnose or treat hypothermia. We suggest you study the subject from scientific resources.
There are some excellent scientific resources on hypothermia, in common language, produced by medical professionals. One of our favourite web links is the University of Manitoba’s website for Dr. Giesbrecht’s research: http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/physed/research/people/giesbrecht.shtml
This provides several links on many aspects of hypothermia, including recognizing signs and symptoms in the field, and field treatments. One short document link which sums it up well is Dr. Giesbrecht’s paper: “Accidental Hypothermia”, http://www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/physed/research/people/giesbrecht/Hypothermia.pdf
Another published reference available for sale from The Mountaineers Books publishers is: Gordon Giesbrecht and James A. Wilkerson. 2006. HYPOTHERMIA, FROSTBITE, AND OTHER COLD INJURIES: Prevention, Survival, Rescue, and Treatment, 2nd Edition. The Mountaineers Books. 160p. http://www.mountaineersbooks.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=698