University of Oregon

Department of Human Physiology Graduate Studies in Athletic Training and Sports Medicine

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Using Therapeutic Hypothermia in a Wilderness Setting

Corrie J. Sizemore, MS, ATC

The purpose of this article is to identify the physiological effects of injury and hypothermia and then determine if there are situations in which using hypothermia as a therapeutic modality in the wilderness would be appropriate.

Unlike in urban settings, wilderness settings do not have emergency medical services readily available. Individuals injured while participating in outdoor activities in the wilderness may have medical care delayed for several hours. In cases where individuals have suffered severe injuries, this can be potentially life-threatening. A survey conducted through the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission found traumatic brain injury to be 6.5% of outdoor injuries while fractures, sprains and strains accounted for 51.3%, and contusions accounted for 15.9%.1 Therapeutic hypothermia has long been used to help better outcomes in brain injuries, though some clinicians disagree with its use due to complications experienced from prolonged exposure.2 Therefore, our purpose was to uncover the literature that would support or refute the use of therapeutic hypothermia in the wilderness.