Comparison of Heat Donation Through the Head or Torso on Mild Hypothermia Rewarming

Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, Volume 25, Issue 1 , Pages 4-13, March 2014 reported on techniques for warming hypodermic victims.

The purpose of the study was to compare the effectiveness of head vs torso warming in rewarming mildly hypothermic, vigorously shivering subjects using a similar source of heat donation.

Six subjects (1 female) were cooled on 3 occasions in 8ºC water for 60 minutes or to a core temperature of 35ºC. They were then dried, insulated, and rewarmed by

  1. shivering only;
  2. charcoal heater applied to the head; or
  3. charcoal heater applied to the torso.

The order of rewarming methods followed a balanced design. Esophageal temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, and heat flux were measured.

Results: There were no significant differences in rewarming rate among the 3 conditions. Torso warming increased skin temperature and inhibited shivering heat production, thus providing similar net heat gain (268 ± 66 W) as did shivering only (355 ± 105 W). Head warming did not inhibit average shivering heat production (290 ± 72 W); it thus provided a greater net heat gain during 35 to 60 minutes of rewarming than did shivering only.

Conclusions: Head warming is as effective as torso warming for rewarming mildly hypothermic victims. Head warming may be the preferred method of rewarming in the field management of hypothermic patients if:

  1. 1) extreme conditions in which removal of the insulation and exposure of the torso to the cold is contraindicated;
  2. 2) excessive movement is contraindicated (eg, potential spinal injury or severe hypothermia that has a risk of ventricular fibrillation); or
  3. 3) if emergency personnel are working on the torso.

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