HomeHealthArchivesDec 2007




On a cool fall morning, Bill encountered an unexpected rain during his daily run. Dressed only in shorts and a sweatshirt, he was soon drenched. A brisk wind added to his misery and by the time he made it home, he was shaking uncontrollably and couldn't feel his fingers. Bill was suffering from hypothermia, below-normal body temperature.

Hypothermia is a dangerous condition caused by a combination of wind, dampness, and temperatures below 60 degrees. Symptoms include shivering, clumsiness, disorientation, and in more serious cases, weakened pulse and bluish skin. Extreme cases can lead to frostbite of the hands and feet as the body tries to keep vital organs warm by pulling blood from extremities.

Dressing appropriately is crucial to preventing hypothermia. Wear multiple layers, each outer layer larger than the last to allow an insulating air space. Wool is best, retaining 80 percent of its dry-warmth value even when soaked. Forty percent of body heat is lost from the head, so wear a hat. Of course, waterproof clothing is essential if rain is expected.

To treat mild hypothermia, change into dry clothes, drink warm liquids, and warm yourself with a heat source. Severe hypothermia requires medical attention.

Like Bill, many athletes mistakenly believe exercising produces enough body heat to prevent hypothermia and don't take the necessary precautions.