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JAMA Patient Page
December 21, 2011

Frostbite

JAMA. 2011;306(23):2633. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1799

Hypothermia develops when the body temperature falls below what is needed for proper bodily functions. When a part of the body, such as an arm, hand, foot, or leg, has tissue damage from being exposed to cold weather or water, this is called frostbite. Hypothermia and frostbite are medical emergencies. Frostbite can lead to gangrene and loss of the affected body part. It is important to prevent hypothermia and frostbite by taking precautions when the weather is cold.

If hypothermia or frostbite is suspected (even a mild case), move the individual into a warm environment and away from wind. Once in a warmer environment, remove wet or damp clothes. Give the person something warm to drink if he or she is conscious. Never give alcoholic beverages or tobacco products to a person with hypothermia or frostbite. Remove jewelry from the area of frostbite. Do not rub, massage, or soak the frostbitten body part. Seek medical attention right away for suspected frostbite or for hypothermia, since you may not recognize how large an injured area is until after it has been rewarmed. Sterile, dry dressings can be applied to the frostbitten area to protect it while waiting for medical attention.

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