Temperature Regulation - Poikilothermic And Poikilothermia


Temperature Regulation Overview

A normal, healthy human is able to maintain a constant body temperature of approximately 98.6F despite the temperature of the environment.

In a hot environment, the body sends a signal to the brain via the spinal cord to say the body is overheating, the brain then sends a signal back down the spinal cord and tells the body to cool itself by perspiring which evaporates and cools the skin preventing hyperthermia.

In cold weather, the body senses the lower temperature and our brain tells our body to constrict the blood vessels in our extremities, and keep the warm blood around our vital organs preventing hypothermia. Our brain also tells us to put more clothes on to warm ourselves up.

Spinal Cord Injury Temperature Regulation

Most people with complete spinal cord injuries do not sweat below the level of the injury and many tetraplegics (quadriplegics) cannot even sweat above the injury (even though they may sweat due to autonomic dysreflexia). With the loss of the ability to sweat or vasoconstrict within affected dermatomes the patient becomes poikilothermic and needs careful control of their environmental conditions.

Therefore, if a high level injury paraplegic or quadriplegic is in an outside temperature over 90 F, especially when the humidity is high, the body core temperature will begin to rise (Poikilothermia) and the individual will become hyperthermic. Likewise in a cold environment, the body may not be able to get the messages through to the brain that the body is cooling down, and if left untreated, the person will soon become hypothermic.

Cooling Down With a Spinal Cord Injury

One of the best ways for a person with a spinal cord injury to cool down is to have a cold wet towel wrapped around the back of the neck. The skin should also be damped down to allow the water to evaporate from the skin, and hence cool the body down. It's a bit like artificial sweat, but it does work. A cold water spray on the head and shoulders will help reduce the body temperature. The most obvious way to keep cool is to sit in the shade!

Some of the symptoms of overheating that quadriplegics may suffer from are nausea, headache, nasal congestion, tiredness, low blood pressure and reduced concentration.

Warming up With a Spinal Cord Injury

If a person gets too cold, then layers of clothing should be worn, and warm fluids should be drank to bring the core temperature back up to normal.

Some of the symptoms of hypothermia are shivering above the level of injury, increased pain, slow reaction of motor skills, tiredness and reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

  • Temperature control in spinal cord injuries.

    How to control temperature and keep warm or cool for someone with paraplegia or tetraplegia/quadriplegia.