More often than not, a body temperature of 97 degrees Fahrenheit is completely normal. While a temperature of 96 degrees is a bit low, unless you have other symptoms, it's probably not a cause for concern. However, a temperature below 95 degrees is technically hypothermia and should be treated right away.
Normal Body Temperature Isn't What You Think
During the 1800s, a German doctor named Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich determined the average body temperature of a healthy human adult to be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, in more recent years, new studies have suggested that the average body temperature is anywhere from 97.5 to 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit, with anything between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit potentially being normal. Theories for this change include less inflamation in the body due to fewer diseases, while heating and air conditioning as well as less exercise may have lowered people's metabolic rates — how quickly you burn energy — compared to their ancestors even just a few generations ago.
Every person’s body temperature also changes throughout the day, based on factors like their age, sex, menstrual cycle, diet, the weather and activity levels. Even the time of day may impact an individual’s body temperature. How a temperature is taken can affect readings as well.
A person’s environment can lower their body temperature. People who spend time in cold weather without dressing warmly may experience low body temperatures, and exposure to rain, ice, snow or wind can exacerbate the issue. A person’s age, health status and body mass may also influence how the weather affects his or her temperature. Swimming in cold water is another factor.
There's usually a benign explanation for lowered body temperature, although diabetes, liver failure, kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease can also cause it.. While infections typically raise a person’s temperature, they can have the opposite effect in seniors, infants and small children. People with sepsis and anyone who’s ever had a stroke or experienced severe trauma may see lower numbers on the thermometer, too.
Some lifestyle choices may impact body temperature, such as drug or alcohol use. These substances dilate the blood vessels, restricting blood flow and interfering with the body’s ability to perform its normal processes, like regulating body temperature. Some medications, such as opioids, some blood pressure medication, anesthesia and some anti-psychotics, can also impact one’s internal temperature. Eating or drinking cold food or beverages can temporarily lower body temperature, as can fatigue.
While everyone gets cold from time to time, hypothermia, which occurs as a person's temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, is a serious matter. It can impact the heart and other organs, slows the nervous system, causes respiratory failure and may even lead to death. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 1,300 die in the United States each year from hypothermia. Older people, children, infants, alcoholics, people who work outdoors, people who don’t get enough sleep and homeless people are at greater risk for hypothermia. Dress appropriately and avoid dangerous situations where you could be exposed to extremely cold water and other hazards, and you likely won't have to worry about it.
Signs and Symptoms of Low Body Temperature
People with a lower body temperature may not even be aware of it, particularly if that's their normal body temperature. In some cases, however, there can be symptoms, especially once their temperature drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. These can include shivering, chattering teeth, inability to get warm, sleepiness, clumsiness and confusion. You may urinate more frequently and look pale. The heart rate may speed up, the pulse may weaken and breathing may become more rapid. If you're experiencing these symptoms, the thing to do is often just to get inside and get warm, although persistent symptoms could signal a bigger problem.
High Body Temperature
If your body temperature climbs above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, you have a moderate fever. This is usually the result of a mild illness, although other factors that may cause a fever include medications, severe trauma, a stroke, heart attack, burns, hyperthyroidism, certain types of cancer and arthritis, among other things. For adults, a fever usually isn't a problem unless it reaches 103 degrees or is accompanied by other symptoms and conditions.