The regulation of body temperature is one of a variety of mechanisms, which play a part in maintaining a stable internal environment in the body thus enabling the body to function optimally. It is crucial that the core body temperature is maintained within a narrow (36–37.5°C) range [Luckmann, 1997]. Thermoregulation in the operating theatre and post anaesthetic care unit is often an underemphasized concern for surgical patients. Anaesthesia and surgery commonly cause substantial alterations in the temperature of surgical patients.
Unnecessary heat loss, hypothermia, the typical variation, results from a combination of anaesthetic-induced impairment of thermoregulatory control, a cool, operating room environment and other factors exclusive to surgery and anaesthesia. Estimates of the incidence of inadvertent perioperative hypothermia range from 60% to 90% of all surgical cases [Bernthal, 1999, Litwack, 1995], when this condition is defined as a body temperature below 36°C (degrees Celsius) 96.8°F (degrees Fahrenheit) (Arndt, 1999). Hypothermia apart from causing a very unpleasant sensation of cold, places the patient at risk of developing life-threatening events, which include altered cardiac performance, delayed emergence from anaesthesia and increased rates of morbidity and mortality. Although the aim of temperature management by intraoperative medical and nursing staff is prevention of heat loss, the objective of post anaesthetic recovery room staff is usually the restoration of normothermia. Thus, perioperative nurses need to be aware of the need to monitor patient's temperature, be familiar with different patient warming/rewarming methods and be alert for potential problems that can arise from hypothermia.