Send to

Choose Destination
Injury. 2018 Feb;49(2):149-164. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2017.11.001. Epub 2017 Nov 4.

The prehospital management of hypothermia - An up-to-date overview.

Author information

Researcher, Department of Emergency Medicine, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Electronic address:
Professor, Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Traumasurgeon, Department of Surgery and Head of the Department of Emergency Medicine, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.



Accidental hypothermia concerns a body core temperature of less than 35°C without a primary defect in the thermoregulatory system. It is a serious threat to prehospital patients and especially injured patients, since it can induce a vicious cycle of the synergistic effects of hypothermia, acidosis and coagulopathy; referred to as the trauma triad of death. To prevent or manage deterioration of a cold patient, treatment of hypothermia should ideally begin prehospital. Little effort has been made to integrate existent literature about prehospital temperature management. The aim of this study is to provide an up-to-date systematic overview of the currently available treatment modalities and their effectiveness for prehospital hypothermia management.


Databases PubMed, EMbase and MEDLINE were searched using the terms: "hypothermia", "accidental hypothermia", "Emergency Medical Services" and "prehospital". Articles with publications dates up to October 2017 were included and selected by the authors based on relevance.


The literature search produced 903 articles, out of which 51 focused on passive insulation and/or active heating. The most effective insulation systems combined insulation with a vapor barrier. Active external rewarming interventions include chemical, electrical and charcoal-burning heat packs; chemical or electrical heated blankets; and forced air warming. Mildly hypothermic patients, with significant endogenous heat production from shivering, will likely be able to rewarm themselves with only insulation and a vapor barrier, although active warming will still provide comfort and an energy-saving benefit. For colder, non-shivering patients, the addition of active warming is indicated as a non-shivering patient will not rewarm spontaneously. All intravenous fluids must be reliably warmed before infusion.


Although it is now accepted that prehospital warming is safe and advantageous, especially for a non-shivering hypothermic patient, this review reveals that no insulation/heating combinations stand significantly above all the others. However, modern designs of hypothermia wraps have shown promise and battery-powered inline fluid warmers are practical devices to warm intravenous fluids prior to infusion. Future research in this field is necessary to assess the effectiveness expressed in patient outcomes.


Accidental hypothermia; Emergency medicine; Pre-hospital care

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center