Prevention of inadvertent perioperative hypothermia

Br J Nurs. 2009 Oct;18(18):1114, 1116-9. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2009.18.18.44553.


All patients undergoing surgery are at risk of developing hypothermia; up to 70% develop hypothermia perioperatively. Inadvertent hypothermia is associated with complications such as impaired wound healing, increased blood loss, cardiac arrest and increased risk of wound infection. Anaesthesia increases the risk as the normal protective shivering reflex is absent. Ambient temperature also has a major effect on the patient's body temperature. Prevention of hypothermia not only reduces the incidence of complications, but patients also experience a greater level of comfort, and avoid postoperative shivering and the unpleasant sensation of feeling cold. Nurses should be aware of the risks of hypothermia so that preventative interventions can be employed to minimize the risk of hypothermia. Preoperative assessment is essential to enable identification of at-risk patients. Simple precautionary measures initiated by nurses can considerably reduce the amount of heat lost, minimize the risk of associated complications and ultimately improve patients' short- and long-term recovery. Minimizing skin exposure, providing adequate bed linen for the transfer to theatre and educating patients about the importance of keeping warm perioperatively are all extremely important. It is also worth considering using forced-air warmers preoperatively as research suggests that initiating active warming preoperatively may be successful in preventing hypothermia during the perioperative period.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Hot Temperature / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / epidemiology
  • Hypothermia / etiology
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control*
  • Intraoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / etiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Assessment / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Perioperative Care* / methods
  • Perioperative Care* / nursing
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Primary Prevention / methods
  • Risk Factors