What are the racial predilections of frostbite?

Updated: Oct 13, 2020
  • Author: Bobak Zonnoor , MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Unacclimatized individuals from tropical climates are at increased risk of frostbite. Individuals from cold climates, such as Eskimos and Tibetans, are acclimated and consequently are less prone to frostbite. However, no definitive studies on the role of racial predisposition to frostbite have been completed.

During the Korean War, frostbite was more common among black soldiers than whites. Similarly, a US Army study of all cases of cold weather injuries, including frostbite, from 1980-1999 demonstrated that African American men and women were 4 times and 2.2 times, respectively, as likely to sustain cold weather injuries as their white counterparts. [26] An increased risk among those of African descent was noted by British investigators during the Falklands Islands War in 1982, [33] and a subsequent British Army study showed that soldiers of African descent had a 30 times greater chance of developing a peripheral cold injury than did white soldiers. [34] A small study suggests a potential explanation for the observed increased susceptibility of African Americans to frostbite. When their arms were immersed in water cooled to 10°C, vasoconstriction was noted to continue longer and the rate of rewarming when removed from the water was slower in African Americans compared with whites. [35] This raises a possible racial variation in vascular response to cold.

Arabs appear to be similarly predisposed to cold weather injuries, as are individuals from warmer climates, such as Pacific Islanders.

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