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J Perianesth Nurs. 1998 Oct;13(5):292-300.

Constant temperature monitoring: a study of temperature patterns in the postanesthesia care unit.

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University of California-Davis, Sacramento, USA.


Patients admitted to the PACU from the operating room exhibit fluctuations in core body temperature during the course of their stay in the PACU. Some patients present with normothermia and experience temperature decreases later in their stay. PACU policy does not dictate that temperatures be measured at a predetermined frequency in the absence of hypothermia; thus, it is possible that hypothermia may not be detected at its onset. The major purpose of this study was to describe the core body temperature patterns of postsurgical patients during the PACU stay. Secondary objectives were to (1) identify at which point in time patients become hypothermic and (2) describe length of stay in patients who develop hypothermia. Hypothermia was defined as a core tympanic temperature of less than 35.5 degrees C. A descriptive design was used using a convenience sample of 150 elective surgical patients over the age of 1 month who were normothermic on admission to the PACU. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Concurrent tympanic and continuous axillary temperatures were monitored for comparison and trend monitoring. Temperatures showed clinically significant decreases into the hypothermic range (< 35.5 degrees C). Fifty-seven percent of the sample (n = 86) had temperatures that dropped after PACU admission and another 13% fell below 35.5 degrees C. Hypothermia occurred within the first 15 minutes of the PACU stay. The average length of stay for those that developed hypothermia was 1.83 hours. Monitoring temperatures more frequently will result in detecting hypothermia at its onset. Nurses may use the axillary device as a trend for continuous monitoring. Length of stay may be shortened if temperature management is embraced by the PACU nurse.

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