Multi-system complications of hypothermia: a case of recurrent episodic hypothermia with a review of the pathophysiology of hypothermia
Alty, JE and Ford, HL, Multi-system complications of hypothermia: a case of recurrent episodic hypothermia with a review of the pathophysiology of hypothermia, Postgraduate Medical Journal, 84, (992) pp. 282-286. ISSN 0032-5473 (2008) [Contribution to Refereed Journal]
A 61-year-old woman with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis presented on six occasions over a 2-year period with severe hypothermia (31-33.5 degrees C). This resulted in numerous multi-system complications comprising acute pancreatitis, hepatitis, gastrointestinal haemorrhage, psychiatric disturbance, bradycardia, paradoxical sweating, thrombocytopenia, anaemia and raised inflammatory markers. Septic screens were consistently normal. On each occasion she was successfully treated with passive external rewarming and made a complete recovery. This is the first reported case of such extensive sequelae in a single patient with recurrent hypothermic episodes. This unusual patient provides an invaluable insight into the natural history and pathophysiology of hypothermia. The case report is followed by a review of dysfunctional thermoregulation and pathophysiology of hypothermia-induced multi-system complications. A key learning point is to recognise that the clinical manifestations of hypothermia may be widespread and serious but are nonetheless reversible. In addition, one should consider the differential diagnosis of covert hypothermia in those patients with episodic confusion, as hypothermia is under-recognised, particularly in older people, who are prone to accidental hypothermia, and in those with common neurological conditions, such as stroke, head injury and multiple sclerosis, that may have suboptimal thermoregulation.