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Freezing temps bring real hypothermia concern

Tuesday - 1/7/2014, 6:20am  ET

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WASHINGTON - The bone-chilling winter weather in the D.C. area can be dangerous. Those who spend too much time out in the cold and wind could end with hypothermia.

It's what happens when the body is exposed to cold temperatures and begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced.

"Hypothermia is extremely dangerous," says Dr. Leana Wen with the Department of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University Hospital. "It is something that people may not always recognize, but could become fatal."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the warning signs in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion and slurred speech. Wen says those with hypothermia often can not move well and feel pain, tingling or numbness in their fingers and toes -- a warning sign of frostbite.

The best defense if you have to go outside in frigid temperatures is to dress in warm layers, and stake out indoor locations nearby beforehand.

Watch out for those warning signs, and at the first indication of trouble, get out of the cold.

"Going inside and putting on extra layers is the most important thing," says Wen.

She says "if you notice you are blacking out, or losing consciousness, then certainly seek medical attention as soon as possible."

The CDC says a body temperature of 95 degrees or below amounts to a medical emergency. When the body temperatures falls that low there is also the risk of heart rhythm abnormalities that could be life-threatening.

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