What Causes Low Body Temperature of 96 to 97 Degrees Fahrenheit?

Thermometer Credit: Stevepb/Pixabay

Hypothyroidism, cold weather, cold water, alcohol use, drug use, infection, shock, anesthesia, anorexia, nerve damage, medication, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, age, organ failure and malnutrition are all potential causes of a lower body temperature. A body temperature of 97 degrees may simply be normal for some adults. Hypothermia, or a body temperature under 95 degrees, is dangerous and potentially even fatal.

Normal Body Temperature 

During the 1800s, a German doctor determined the average body temperature of a healthy human adult should be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In more recent years, doctors discovered the average body temperature is closer to 98.2 degrees Fahrenheit and that anything that falls between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit may be considered normal. Every person’s body temperature changes throughout the day, based on factors like their age, sex, menstrual cycles, what they ate or drank, the weather and activity levels. Even the time of day may impact an individual’s body temperature.

Environmental Factors that Lower Body Temperature

A person’s environment can lower their body temperature. People who spend time in cold weather and do not take precautions to dress warmly may experience low body temperatures. This includes exposure to rain, ice, snow and wind. A person’s age, health status and body mass may also influence how the weather affects his or her temperature. Swimming in cold water can also impact the body’s temperature.

Medical Conditions that Lower Body Temperature

Diabetes, liver failure, kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease can even lower body temperature. While infections typically raise a person’s temperature, they can have the opposite effect in seniors, infants and small children. People with sepsis may also see a lower body temperature. Anyone who’s ever had a stroke or experienced severe trauma may see lower numbers on the thermometer too. 

Other Factors that Lower Body Temperature

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. Medications, like opioids, some blood pressure medication, anesthesia and some antipsychotics can also impact one’s internal temperature.  Eating or drinking cold food and beverages can temporarily lower body temperature. Fatigue may even impact a person’s temperature. 

Hypothermia

When a person’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s called hypothermia. This is a serious medical attention that impacts 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, homeless people, people with mental health issues and those who spend time in the cold are at a greater risk for hypothermia. 

Signs and Symptoms of Low Body Temperature

People with a lower body temperature may not even be aware of it, but in some cases, it can cause some symptoms, especially once that number drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. This can include shivering, chattering teeth, inability to get warm, sleepiness, clumsiness and confusion. The person may urinate more frequently and look pale. The heart rate may speed up, the pulse may weaken and breathing may become more rapid.

Fever and High Body Temperature

If a person’s body temperature climbs above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they have a fever. Infection is the most common cause of a higher body temperature, but other factors that may cause it are medications, severe trauma, strokes, heart attacks, burns, hyperthyroidism, certain types of cancer and arthritis.