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Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online). 2015 Jan 16;69:69-79. doi: 10.5604/17322693.1136382.

[Hypothermia--mechanism of action and pathophysiological changes in the human body].

[Article in Polish]

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Katedra i Zakład Fizjologii, Uniwersytet Medyczny im. K. Marcinkowskiego w Poznaniu.


This review focuses on the physiological responses and pathophysiological changes induced by hypothermia. Normal body function depends on its ability to maintain thermal homeostasis. The human body can be divided arbitrarily into two thermal compartments: a core compartment (trunk and head), with precisely regulated temperature around 37°C, and a peripheral compartment (skin and extremities) with less strictly controlled temperature, and lower than the core temperature. Thermoregulatory processes occur in three phases: afferent thermal sensing, central regulation, mainly by the preoptic area of the anterior hypothalamus, and efferent response. Exposure to cold induces thermoregulatory responses including cutaneous vasoconstriction, shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis, and behavioral changes. Alterations of body temperature associated with impaired thermoregulation, decreased heat production or increased heat loss can lead to hypothermia. Hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 35ºC, and may be classified according to the origin as accidental (e.g. caused by exposure to a cold environment, drugs, or illness) or intentional (i.e. therapeutic), or by the degree of hypothermia as mild, moderate or severe. Classification by temperature is not universal. Lowering of body temperature disrupts the physiological processes at the molecular, cellular and system level, but hypothermia induced prior to cardiosurgical or neurosurgical procedures, by the decrease in tissue oxygen demand, can reduce the risk of cerebral or cardiac ischemic damage. Therapeutic hypothermia has been recommended as a clinical procedure in situations characterized by ischemia, such as cardiac arrest, stroke and brain injuries.

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