How women respond to hypothermia

By: Bo Tibbetts

There should be considerations for females participating an ice rescue, as either a technician or as an accidental victim in an actual ice rescue or rescue scenario. No one has to tell you that on average, females feel the effects of cold temperatures sooner and at a much faster rate than males do. In the same room, a male will feel comfortable and a female will feel cold. There are many obvious and not so obvious contributing factors: 

  • Perception of temperature 
  • Metabolism 
  • Muscle mass 
  • Fat distribution 
  • Smaller size 
  • Smaller internal functions 

The female body produces less heat than the male body. Females, on average, are smaller than males, with less muscle and more fat. Males naturally have more muscle, which equals a higher metabolic rate; more muscle equals more heat. The fact that the metabolism of most males is faster than that of most females also contributes to the idea that females tend to be and feel a lot colder than males. 

Our metabolism is the way our bodies burn calories for fuel; our metabolic rate in turn heats our body.  Females, with a lower muscle to fat ratio, are burning less fuel. It stands to reason that they would not be as warm as most males. Studies have shown that on average females have a higher internal temperature than most men. They also have a higher percentage of fat just under the surface of their skin. While fat does conserve heat, it traps it at the core, below the skin, meaning they’ll still feel cold when their skin cools down, even if their core temperature is still warm. 

Females vasoconstriction at a much faster rate than males in cold temperatures. This vasoconstriction shunts the body’s blood to the core to keep vital organs warm, thus making the skin and extremities feel colder. Once the body’s blood is directed below the skin’s surface and beneath the subcutaneous fat layer, females begin to feel the effects of the cold. Females often have hands and feet which are cooler than a male’s to begin with, sometimes up to three degrees cooler. This temperature differential puts females at a disadvantage right from the start. Their hands and feet are the first to get cold, which makes these extremities susceptible to frostbite

On average, males will last a lot longer in the same temperature before they perceive the effects of the cold on their hands and feet. With that said, even though a female body in an icy water situation may be internally warm and may not be in a stage of severe hypothermia, they most likely will lose feeling and dexterity in their hands, arms, feet and legs, which will make it potentially impossible to self-extricate or to even hold onto the ice shelf until help arrives. 

As an ice rescue technician, staying warm is a must, and proper protective equipment and gear is imperative; you need to be able to maintain dexterity to help not only rescue yourself, but the people or pets you are called to rescue.

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia, which usually follow a common course, although gender, age, health and other factors will have an effect on the temperature at which hypothermia will occur in an individual. 

Hypothermia is a condition where your core body temperature drops below a normal range. A lot of times, the person experiencing hypothermia doesn’t even realize it. 

Mild hypothermia is a body temperature between 95- 98 degrees.

  • Signs Include: 
    • Shivering 
    • Stumbling when walking 
    • Mumbling when speaking 
    • Fumbling when using hands 
    • Feeling cold 
    • Changes in personality 

Moderate Hypothermia is a body temperature between 93-95 degrees. 

  • Signs Include: 
    • Extreme shivering
    • Very poor coordination 
    • Confusion

Severe Hypothermia is a body temperature of 86-92 degrees

  • Signs Include: 
    • No shivering
    • Very weak pulse 
    • Low rate of breathing

In conclusion, make sure you are aware of the effects of cold temperatures on both males and females and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself as an ice rescue technician.

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1 reply
  1. Peter Bonacum
    Peter Bonacum says:

    While this article is not meant to be a medical education piece, it should make it clear that Severe Hypothermia is considered to be a life-threatening condition which requires immediate attention vis-a-vis the more frequently observed mild or moderate hypothermia.

    Reply

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