Perioperative thermoregulation and heat balance

Lancet. 2016 Jun 25;387(10038):2655-2664. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00981-2. Epub 2016 Jan 8.


Core body temperature is normally tightly regulated to within a few tenths of a degree. The major thermoregulatory defences in humans are sweating, arteriovenous shunt vasoconstriction, and shivering. The core temperature triggering each response defines its activation threshold. General anaesthetics greatly impair thermoregulation, synchronously reducing the thresholds for vasoconstriction and shivering. Neuraxial anaesthesia also impairs central thermoregulatory control, and prevents vasoconstriction and shivering in blocked areas. Consequently, unwarmed anaesthetised patients become hypothermic, typically by 1-2°C. Hypothermia results initially from an internal redistribution of body heat from the core to the periphery, followed by heat loss exceeding metabolic heat production. Complications of perioperative hypothermia include coagulopathy and increased transfusion requirement, surgical site infection, delayed drug metabolism, prolonged recovery, shivering, and thermal discomfort. Body temperature can be reliably measured in the oesophagus, nasopharynx, mouth, and bladder. The standard-of-care is to monitor core temperature and to maintain normothermia during general and neuraxial anaesthesia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia / adverse effects*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia / diagnosis
  • Hypothermia / etiology
  • Hypothermia / prevention & control*
  • Malignant Hyperthermia / diagnosis
  • Malignant Hyperthermia / etiology
  • Malignant Hyperthermia / prevention & control*
  • Perioperative Care*