Hypothermia can lead to death; recognize symptoms and get medical attention if they occur


CONTACT: Wes Stubblefield, M.D., (256) 340-2113

The milder climate of Alabama in winter may mask the need to be aware of hypothermia, a medical emergency that can lead to death. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 95 degrees F, just a few degrees less than the normal body temperature. When exposed to cold, human bodies begin to lose heat faster than it can be produced. 

Provisional data for 2022 from the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) Center for Health Statistics show there were 18 deaths of Alabama residents from hypothermia in 2022, an increase in number from the 10 deaths in 2021.

To prevent hypothermia, stay warm, keep well informed and take extra precautions during times of extremely cold weather. Everyone should remember to lower the risks of cold-weather health problems by dressing in multiple layers to help retain body heat, limit time outdoors, and remove wet clothing immediately.

ADPH cautions that hypothermia makes people unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know when it is occurring and then will not be able to do anything about it. 

 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), victims of hypothermia are often:

  • Older adults with inadequate food, clothing or heating
  • Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
  • People who remain outdoors for long periods—the unhoused, hikers, hunters and others
  • People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

As the body ages, the ability to maintain a constant internal temperature decreases. Hypothermia risk is even greater when an older person has a chronic condition that affects the circulatory or neurologic systems, or the thyroid. When the core temperature falls, bodily functions shut down. 

Knowing what to do in cold weather can help prevent hypothermia. To provide protection, living quarters for older adults should be heated to at least 65 degrees F, they should wear suitable clothing, have plenty of warm blankets available, and eat nutritionally balanced food. 

In addition to advanced age, common risk factors for hypothermia are substance abuse and mental impairment. Certain commonly used drugs such as tranquilizers may contribute to the onset of hypothermia. Furthermore, many deaths from hypothermia are complicated by alcohol consumption, which can lead to dehydration and impaired judgment. 

The CDC lists the following signs and symptoms of hypothermia:


  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness


  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

Immediate medical attention is needed if a person’s temperature falls below 95 degrees F, the CDC advises. If unable to get medical help right away, try to warm the person up.

  • Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
  • Warm the center of the person’s body—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm drinks can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic drinks. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
  • Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. If this happens, handle the person gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Perform CPR, even if the person appears dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available. Keep warming the person while performing CPR. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to have died can be successfully resuscitated.

Hypothermia prevention information is available at the CDC.





County health departments throughout Alabama provide a wide range of confidential and professional services. Contact your local county health department for additional information.

Mission: To promote, protect, and improve Alabama’s health

Vision: Healthy People. Healthy Communities. Healthy Alabama.