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Death due to Hypothermia / Exposure to Cold

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Hypothermia is reduced body temperature that happens when a body dissipates more heat than it absorbs. In humans, it is defined as a body core temperature below 35.0 °C (95.0 °F). Symptoms depend on the temperature. In mild hypothermia there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia there may be paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes his or her clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.

Hypothermia has two main types of causes. It classically occurs from exposure to extreme cold. It may also occur from any condition that decreases heat production or increases heat loss, such as alcohol intoxication, low blood sugar, anorexia, advanced age and others.

What leads to hypothermia: Wind, wet and cold are the key factors. Wind can chill the body as air moves over it. Water rapidly absorbs body heat; wet clothing is a common cause of hypothermia, and casualties in lakes and rivers are often due to hypothermia, not drowning. Cold air cools down the body - but it does not have to be frigid; hypothermia can happen at under 10 C, so it's a threat even with above-average winter temperatures.

Hypothermia is the cause of at least 1500 deaths a year in the United States. It is more common in older people and males. One of the lowest documented body temperatures from which someone with accidental hypothermia has survived is 13.0 °C (55.4 °F) in a near-drowning of a 7-year-old girl in Sweden. Survival after more than six hours of CPR has been described. In those in whom ECMO or bypass is used survival is around 50%. Deaths due to hypothermia have played an important role in many wars. Hyperthermia is the opposite of hypothermia, being an increased body temperature due to failed thermoregulation. The term is from Greek ὑπο, ypo, meaning "under", and θερμία, thermía, meaning "heat".


Hypothermia has played a major role in the success or failure of many military campaigns, from Hannibal's loss of nearly half his men in the Second Punic War (218 B.C.) to the near destruction of Napoleon's armies in Russia in 1812. Men wandered around confused by hypothermia, some lost consciousness and died, others shivered, later developed torpor, and tended to sleep. Others too weak to walk fell on their knees; some stayed that way some time resisting death. The pulse of some was weak and hard to detect; others groaned; yet others had eyes open and wild with quiet delirium. Loss of life to hypothermia in Russian regions continued through the first and second world wars, especially in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Civilian examples of deaths caused by hypothermia occurred during the sinkings of the RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania, and more recently of the MS Estonia.

Antarctic explorers developed hypothermia; Ernest Shackleton and his team measured body temperatures "below 94.2°, which spells death at home", though this probably referred to oral temperatures rather than core temperature and corresponded to mild hypothermia. One of Scott's team, Atkinson, became confused through hypothermia.

Nazi human experimentation during World War II amounting to medical torture included hypothermia experiments, which killed many victims. There were 360 to 400 experiments and 280 to 300 subjects, indicating some had more than one experiment performed on them. Various methods of rewarming were attempted, "One assistant later testified that some victims were thrown into boiling water for rewarming".

Mortality & Morbidity for Hypothermia Deaths:

From 1999 to 2011, a total of 16,911 deaths in the United States, an average of 1,301 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural cold. The highest yearly total of hypothermia-related deaths (1,536) was in 2010 and the lowest (1,058) in 2006. Approximately 67% of hypothermia-related deaths were among males.

Famous People Who Died of Hypothermia

  • Ranker - Famous People Who Died of Hypothermia (13 people listed)
  • Wikipedia - Category: Deaths from Hypothermia (49 people listed)
    • Ira Hayes (1923-1955) - Soldier
    • David Sharp (1972-2006) - Mathematician, Mountaineer, Teacher
    • Rob Hall (1961-1996) - Mountaineer
    • Scott Fischer (1955-1996) - Mountaineer
    • Jack Phillips (1887-1912) - Sailor
    • Lucía Zárate (1864-1890)
    • Ivan Hristov Bashev
    • Niels Bätge
    • Jesse L. Brown
    • Bert T. Combs
    • Alastair Windsor, 2nd Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1914-1943)
    • William Buckingham Curtis

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