Frostbite: Review and current concepts

Brian V. Reamy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Background: A literature review was conducted to analyze developments in the epidemiology, pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention of frostbite injury. Increased participation in outdoor activities, as well as the epidemic of homelessness, makes knowledge of the treatment of frostbite crucial for physicians in both rural and urban areas. Methods: A literature search, using the key words 'frostbite' and 'cold,' was done using MEDLINE and Index Medicus. This search focused on the epidemiology, pathogenesis, treatment, and prevention of frostbite. Results: Research done during the past 15 years has clarified the pathogenesis of frostbite injury and led to a better understanding of how to limit tissue loss. The etiology of frostbite is commonly related to alcohol use, psychiatric illness, or motor vehicle problems. The pathogenesis is linked to tissue freezing, hypoxia, and the release of inflammatory mediators. The initial clinical manifestations of frostbite injury are similar for superficial and deep tissue damage, so early treatment is identical for all injuries. Optimum therapy is based on the rapid reversal of tissue freezing by rewarming in 104-108°F water and the institution of oral and topical antiprostaglandin therapy to limit the release of inflammatory mediators. Conclusion: Rapid triage and treatment of frostbite can lead to dramatic improvements in outcome and prognosis. Increased awareness of antiprostaglandin therapy and preventive measures is crucial for physicians in diverse practice environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-40
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Board of Family Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1998


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