Retrospective study of 70 cases of severe frostbite lesions: a proposed new classification scheme

Wilderness Environ Med. 2001 Winter;12(4):248-55. doi: 10.1580/1080-6032(2001)012[0248:rsocos];2.


Objective: Previous frostbite classifications were mainly based on retrospective diagnosis and, most of the time, could not be used to predict the final outcome of the lesions and especially the probability of an amputation and its level. The aim of this study was to suggest a new classification at day 0 based mainly on the topography of the lesions and on early bone scan results, which are more convenient and accurate in predicting the final outcome of frostbites.

Methods: The retrospective study of the clinical histories of 70 patients hospitalized at Chamonix Hospital (Mont-Blanc Massif) from 1985 to 1999 for severe frostbite injuries of the extremities has allowed us to classify the aspects of the initial lesions on day 0 and to compare them with final outcomes.

Results: A strong correlation was found between the extent of the lesion and the outcome of each finger or toe. When the initial lesion was on the distal phalanx, the probability of bone amputation was around 1% for the digit, 31% for the middle phalanx, 67% for the proximal phalanx, 98% for the metacarpal/metatarsal, and 100% for the carpal/tarsal.

Conclusions: Based on these clinical results and on the results of bone scans (previously validated), a new classification of frostbite severity at day 0 is proposed. Four degrees of severity are defined: first degree, leading to recovery; second degree, leading to soft tissue amputation; third degree, leading to bone amputation, and fourth degree, leading to large amputation with systemic effects.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Trees
  • Emergency Treatment / methods
  • Female
  • Fingers
  • France / epidemiology
  • Frostbite / classification*
  • Frostbite / epidemiology*
  • Frostbite / pathology
  • Frostbite / therapy
  • Humans
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Mountaineering
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Toes