TIP of the WEEK: Hypothermia

January 9, 2015

Hypothermia and Warning Signs
As many of us face record cold this January, I would like to share about hypothermia and its warning signs:   

Hypothermia is a serious medical emergency that occurs when your body cannot produce heat as quickly as it loses heat. Your nervous system and all internal organs are affected when hypothermia sets in. Hypothermia in those with PWS can set in sooner and be more difficult to diagnose. Because of this, it is imperative that winter time precautions are in place.

The following are symptoms of mild hypothermia for all populations:

  • shivering 
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • slight confusion
  • lack of coordination/stumbling
  • confusion
  • faster breathing
  • increased heart rate
  • body temperature below 95 degrees
As one’s body temperature drops, signs and symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:
  • Shivering, although as hypothermia worsens, shivering stops
  • Clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech or mumbling
  • Confusion and poor decision-making, such as trying to remove warm clothes
  • Drowsiness or very low energy
  • Lack of concern about one’s condition
  • Progressive loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing

Someone with hypothermia usually isn’t aware of his or her condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. Also, the confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness. The confused thinking can also lead to risk-taking behavior.

 In the person with PWS, lack of coordination, weak pulse, shallow breathing and low energy may be baseline, so it is important to tell any medical professional what the person’s typical presentation looks like. It may also be difficult for a person with PWS to accurately describe the pain they are feeling.

 Here are some precautions that you may want to take, especially when caring for an individual with PWS:

  • Keep an emergency box in your car including blankets and hand and feet warmers. Many people experience hypothermia and frost bite when cars break down in frigid temperatures.

If your child runs away often, consider a GPS location bracelet or anklet so they can be found easily. This device has saved lives.

  • Plan ahead for storms and inclement weather so you are able to stay indoors. If you need to leave your home, consider having someone come to your home to watch your child instead of having them leave the house with you. 
It only takes a few minutes of exposure to cause serious damage.

 If you suspect that your child may be suffering from hypothermia call for emergency medical help immediately and if possible, take the person inside, moving them carefully and slowly. Jarring movements can trigger dangerous irregular heartbeats. Carefully remove wet clothing, and cover him or her in layers of blankets while you wait for emergency help to arrive.

Patrice Carroll
Manager of PWS Services

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