What is the most significant type of heat loss encountered by the exposed surgical patient prior to surgery?

Mechanisms of heat transfer (Figure 1) should be considered when trying to prevent or reverse heat loss.

Radiative heat loss is the major type of heat transfer affecting the exposed patient in the operating room (O.R.). The walls, ceiling and equipment in the O.R. absorb heat from the patient’s body in proportion to the fourth power of the temperature difference between the two surfaces.

Convective heat loss occurs when air moves over the body, transferring heat to molecules that quickly move away. This is the second-largest mechanism of heat transfer encountered by the exposed surgical patient in the O.R. Covering the patient with a blanket prior to surgical draping, and the surgical drapes themselves, significantly reduces heat transfer due to convection.

Conductive heat loss occurs between two touching surfaces of...

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