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Published January 09, 2014, 10:13 PM

Man who likely froze to death showed signs of ‘paradoxical undressing’

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The man had taken some of his clothes off, and had skin exposed as he lay in the snow.

By: Becky Parker, WDAY

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - The man had taken some of his clothes off, and had skin exposed as he lay in the snow.

Doctors say that's actually fairly common in hypothermia deaths.

When the body gets very cold the heart rate and all other systems slow down. And sometimes, that causes people to do some strange things in a final effort to survive.

In this freezing cold, it doesn't take long for hypothermia to set in.

And it may seem strange, but it is fairly common for people to start taking OFF clothing as their body temperature drops. It's known as "paradoxical undressing."

Joe Burns, M.D., Essentia Emergency Dept.: "As your temperature starts dropping, you just don't think the same. And you might see somebody on a cold, wet snowy day taking a coat off, taking a shirt off."

Some researchers think it's because of a "hot flash" that happens when the blood held in the core of the body rushes to the extremities.

Another common behavior is burrowing, hiding under anything and trying to get down low.

Dr. Burns: "Just as a survival instinct, people try to get out of wind and the cold."

With how cold it has been this year, Dr. Burns says they have treated many cases of hypothermia in Essentia's ER, often when someone falls outside and no one knows they are there.

Dr. Burns: "We've had some people young and old recently that for one reason or another got caught outside. And fortunately somebody found them and they're still alive."

Dr. Burns says to stay warm you need to remember the three W's: wick, wool and wind.

Wear a material that wicks away moisture - NOT cotton - as your first layer, an insulator like wool as your second, and a wind resistant shell as the outer layer.

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