Resuscitation of avalanche victims: Evidence-based guidelines of the international commission for mountain emergency medicine (ICAR MEDCOM): intended for physicians and other advanced life support personnel

Resuscitation. 2013 May;84(5):539-46. doi: 10.1016/j.resuscitation.2012.10.020. Epub 2012 Nov 2.


Background: In North America and Europe ∼150 persons are killed by avalanches every year.

Methods: The International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine (ICAR MEDCOM) systematically developed evidence-based guidelines and an algorithm for the management of avalanche victims using a worksheet of 27 Population Intervention Comparator Outcome questions. Classification of recommendations and level of evidence are ranked using the American Heart Association system.

Results and conclusions: If lethal injuries are excluded and the body is not frozen, the rescue strategy is governed by the duration of snow burial and, if not available, by the victim's core-temperature. If burial time ≤35 min (or core-temperature ≥32 °C) rapid extrication and standard ALS is important. If burial time >35 min and core-temperature <32 °C, treatment of hypothermia including gentle extrication, full body insulation, ECG and core-temperature monitoring is recommended, and advanced airway management if appropriate. Unresponsive patients presenting with vital signs should be transported to a hospital capable of active external and minimally invasive rewarming such as forced air rewarming. Patients with cardiac instability or in cardiac arrest (with a patent airway) should be transported to a hospital for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or cardiopulmonary bypass rewarming. Patients in cardiac arrest should receive uninterrupted CPR; with asystole, CPR may be terminated (or withheld) if a patient is lethally injured or completely frozen, the airway is blocked and duration of burial >35 min, serum potassium >12 mmol L(-1), risk to the rescuers is unacceptably high or a valid do-not-resuscitate order exists. Management should include spinal precautions and other trauma care as indicated.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Avalanches*
  • Disaster Victims
  • Evidence-Based Emergency Medicine / methods*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / therapy*
  • Life Support Care / methods*
  • Resuscitation / methods*
  • Transportation of Patients