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Latest News

02 Jan 2019

Hypothermia Alert

Dr. Chu Leung Wing
Specialist in Geriatric Medicine, Hong Kong Medical Consultants
Honorary Clinical Professor, Division of Geriatric Medicine,
Department of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

Hypothermia Alert
Hypothermia can occur in Hong Kong, usually during the very cold days in winter months. Hypothermia is a medical emergency, when the body core temperature decreases to below 35 degree Celsius. Left untreated, the person can develop the potentially fatal moderate to severe hypothermia condition, when the core temperature may fall below 32 degrees Celsius.

What are the causes of hypothermia in Hong Kong?
Elderly people are more likely to develop hypothermia in winter. They more commonly have abnormal regulation of body temperature, and are especially vulnerable to hypothermia. With aging, the body’s energy production and the heat production by muscle activity are lower. Also, blood vessels in the skin of elderly people are less able to constrict as a heat-conserving response. With aging, there is a decline in the sensitivity to perceive a drop in room temperature, as well as a decline in the muscle’s shivering response. These age-related changes reduce the older person’s awareness to take protective measures. Many chronic illnesses including low thyroid function, previous stroke, diabetes mellitus, malnutrition, septicaemia, and use of alcohol can diminish the body normal ability to maintain a normal body temperature.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
Elderly persons with hypothermia may or may not complain of being cold. On observation, the skin feels cold, and the face is often pale and puffy. The skin often has a mottled and purple discoloration. Body temperature is below 35 degree Celsius. Prompt arrangement for hospitalization and immediate treatment would be life-saving.

How to prevent hypothermia?
In light of recent cold weather, we would like to remind the public, elderly and people with chronic illnesses in particular, to adopt the following precautionary measures to protect themselves:

• Wear warm clothing, including hats, scarves, gloves and socks to warm their body
• Eat sufficient food to ensure adequate calorie intake
• Have regular exercise to facilitate blood circulation and heat production
• Stay in a warm environment and avoid prolonged outdoor activities
• Use heaters with care and ensure enough indoor ventilation
• Family or other caregivers should consult family doctors or geriatricians early if their elderly relatives feel unwell, and prompt treatment in the hospital is recommended if hypothermia is diagnosed

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