Environmental Temperature Deaths

The determination of the cause of death from exposure to extreme temperatures is a diagnosis of exclusion. Because both clinical and autopsy findings are nonspecific, a thorough investigation of the background and scene, evaluation of temporally relevant environmental conditions, and assessment of the victim’s underlying state of health with appropriate laboratory studies, which frequently include autopsy, are essential to establish the cause of injury and/or death with reasonable medical probability. Individuals may encounter environmental extremes in many settings during any season.

Hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 95 degrees. The drop in core temperature may be rapid as in immersion in near-freezing water, or slow as in prolonged exposure to more temperate environments. The effects of hypothermia are proportional to the change in temperature, with metabolic rate reduced in proportion to the fall in core body temperature.

Hyperthermia is a condition in which the body either produces more heat, such as in fever, or absorbs more heat, thru excessive sun exposure. It is described as having an elevated body temperature brought about by failure in thermoregulation. Hyperthermia is defined as a temperature more than 37.5 – 38.3 °C (100 – 101 °F) – (Ref : Wikipedia)

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Hypothermia and Hyperthermia Medicolegal Investigation of Morbidity and Mortality From Exposure to Environmental Temperature Extremes

People most likely to experience hypothermia include:

  • The very elderly or the very young.
  • Those who are chronically ill, especially with cardiovascular disease.
  • People who are malnourished.
  • People who are exhausted.
  • Those intoxicated with alcohol or drugs.
  • People with cognitive impairment – eg, in Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Those with underlying medical conditions – eg hypothyroidism, stroke, severe arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, trauma, spinal cord injuries, and burns.

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About the Author
Darren is a 30 year veteran of law enforcement and criminal investigations. He currently serves as an investigator for the Crawford County Missouri coroner’s office. He holds credentials as an instructor for the Missouri Sheriff’s Training Academy, has served as president of the Missouri Medical Examiners and Coroners Association, and is certified and credentialed in numerous fields of investigation. He holds the position of lead instructor and facilitator for the Coroner Talk™ community as he speaks and writes in the area of death investigation and scene management.

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