column logo Alithea Athans

Ever since I was diagnosed with cold agglutinin disease (CAD), I have wondered what would happen if I was in an emergency situation. I have always been cold. I am the person that carries a sweater with her wherever I go. I just hate to be cold.

Someone recently shared an article on how a cold room affects the human body and I found it fascinating. The subject was asked to participate in a cold experiment at 10 °C, which doesn’t sound so bad considering that it is only 50 °F.

Imagine you are in a natural disaster. It is plausible that you could find yourself in a situation where you would be exposed to the cold for a long time. What would happen? This is a huge fear for me.

Continue Reading

They started the experiment at nearly 70 °F. The plan was to map the effects on the human body as the experimenters lowered the temperature in the controlled room. The volunteer is monitored the entire time. They use wires and equipment to monitor how the blood responds throughout their body including the brain, arteries, and oxygen ultimately learning the effects it has on their organs. He wears a shirt, shorts, shoes, and socks to give a complete visual.

The temperature is slowly lowered only by 4 degrees and his hair starts to stand up on end—which is to help insulate the body, something I never knew. At a mere 64 °F, the body has already gone into protection mode.

As their critical organs begin to pull the warmth to their core, their fingers start to turn white and they are cold. As they get the room down to 52 °F, he begins to shiver to generate heat.

Read more about experimental therapies for CAD

After 30 minutes, they reach 50 °F and realize the effects of the change in temperature on the human body. They discovered in the controlled environment that the human body experiences many physical and cognitive changes that can be detrimental to your health.

The blood flow to the brain slowed down by 2%, causing the subject to take 20 seconds longer to complete a simple puzzle. His mean arterial blood pressure went up from 99 mmHg to 110 mmHg due to his blood thickening. His heart had to work harder to pump his blood throughout his body. It also put him at a higher risk for both heart attack and stroke. His breathing increased from 9 breaths per minute to 12. His arms, legs, and skin all dropped by 2 °C, and the body burned more carbohydrates.

Your body goes into survival mode to protect your vital organs. All these changes were happening in an effort to keep his core temperature at 37 °C, which it did successfully.

I thought this was a really important article. He was a healthy man, and the cold room had these effects on him.

Taking this all in, I started thinking about how this is relevant to me. Women feel the cold more due to hormones. Now add the fact that I have CAD. A lot of CAD patients have mentioned that they had tests that tell them the temperature at which they begin to experience hemolysis. I have not had that test, and in hindsight, it would be helpful and it should probably be a staple during initial testing.

Since I do not know the temperature that my body begins to respond to the cold, it makes it harder for me to equate what is happening to a healthy person and what would happen to me.

What I can say is what I have experienced. I do not need to be in a room that is 50 °F for my body to begin survival mode. It begins at a much higher temperature. My blood would begin to thicken, my heart rate would increase quickly, and I would begin sweating. The worst is when your arms and legs feel so heavy you can’t move them.

The last thing I would want to do is be in a situation where the room temperature was lower than what my body can handle.