What Is a Low Body Temperature?

How Low Is Too Low and When to Seek Medical Attention

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For most adults, a normal body temperature is between 97.8 degrees F to 99.1 degrees F. Some people naturally register lower than this, but low body temperature can also indicate a medical condition like thyroid disease that may need treatment.

There is also a point at which low becomes dangerously low. A body temperature below 95 degrees F indicates hypothermia—a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

This article covers the possible causes of low body temperature, how to take your temperature correctly, and when to seek medical care for a low body temperature.

Young woman sleeping under blanket.

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Low Body Temperature Signs and Symptoms

A body temperature that's slightly below normal may not cause any symptoms aside from feeling chilly, although the underlying cause may bring about other symptoms.

When it dips below or is starting to approach 95 degrees F, however, you’ll have the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.

The first signs that your body temperature is too low are typical responses to the cold—for example, you'll have chills and start shivering.

When hypothermia becomes severe, you may stop shivering. As hypothermia progresses, you will be unable to think clearly or move.

The signs and symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Cold, pale skin
  • Slow heart rate and breathing
  • Uncontrolled shivering, then not shivering at all
  • Loss of coordination
  • Weakness

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you don't have hypothermia but consistently have a body temperature below 97 degrees F, or you constantly feel cold, talk to your healthcare provider.

People with hypothermia can lose consciousness or go into shock. If you or someone else has signs of hypothermia, they need emergency medical care. Call 911 or go to the ER at once.

Why Body Temperature May Decrease

A slightly lower body temperature is not always a concern. For example, body temperature decreases with age due to fat loss. It can also be due to the use of certain medications, hormonal and metabolic changes, and natural fluctuations throughout the day.

That said, temperatures that are lower than 97.8 degrees F can sometimes be a sign that something’s wrong. A low body temperature can be caused by medical conditions, including:

Temperatures nearing or dipping below 95 degrees indicate that hypothermia is developing or has set in. This typically happens when someone is exposed to cold air or water for a period of time (e.g., they have fallen in a frozen lake).

Hypothermia can also be caused by necessary medical treatment, like surgery. Sometimes, providers put a person into a hypothermic state on purpose to try to save them after severe trauma.

Is Your Low Temperature Reading Accurate?

If you take your temperature and are worried that it's too low, you first need to make sure that the reading you got is correct and that you are considering factors that may affect it.

Use a Good Thermometer

Your best bet is a probe thermometer that goes into your mouth, rectum, or armpit. Another accurate option is an electronic forehead thermometer.

Electronic ear thermometers are considered less accurate than these options.

Consider When You Take a Reading

It’s important the wait for a bit after doing activities that can change your temperature. Do not take your body temperature:

  • Within an hour of exercise or a hot bath
  • Within 30 minutes of smoking
  • Within 30 minutes of drinking a hot or cold drink

Read the instructions for your thermometer and follow them. Most thermometers will beep when it's time to check the reading.

Take Location Differences Into Account

Your temperature reading will depend on where on the body you take it.

For example, rectal and ear temperatures can be 0.5 to 1 degree higher than oral readings, and armpit and forehead readings can be 0.5 to 1 degree lower.

Summary

A body temperature that is too low can be a sign of a health condition or even a life-threatening emergency if hypothermia sets in. However, some people just naturally have a lower-than-normal body temperature—especially as they get older.

If you have a consistently low body temperature and you feel cold all the time, it's best to bring it up with your provider. They can figure out if there's a medical cause for your low body temperature and make sure you get the right treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it normal to have a temperature of 96 degrees?

    A temperature of 96 degrees is considered low. (For most adults, around 97 to 99 degrees is normal.) Since this can be a sign of a medical condition, it's best to see your healthcare provider. If you also have signs and symptoms of hypothermia, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.

  • Does dehydration cause low body temperature?

    Dehydration can cause a low body temperature and increase your risk of hypothermia. Not eating enough and drinking alcohol can also raise your risk for a dangerously low body temperature.

  • What indoor temperature is too cold?

    Most health organizations recommend that the indoor temperature be kept at 64 degrees F or higher. Homes with infants or elderly people should keep the temperature at 68 degrees F or higher due to their risk of hypothermia.

  • Can an infection cause a low body temperature?

    Most infections cause a fever. However, some people who get a very serious infection called sepsis actually develop a low body temperature as their body works to fight the infection.

  • What kind of vitamin deficiency makes you cold?

    Feeling cold all the time can be a symptom of vitamin B12 deficiency. If you are low in iron, you might also feel cold—especially in your hands and feet.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Song SS, Lyden PD. Overview of therapeutic hypothermiaCurr Treat Options Neurol. 2012;14(6):541-548. doi:10.1007/s11940-012-0201-x

  4. Department of Health. Cold weather tips. State of New York.

  5. Sepsis Alliance. Symptoms.

  6. Wolffenbuttel BHR, Wouters HJCM, Heiner-Fokkema MR, van der Klauw MM. The Many Faces of Cobalamin (Vitamin B12) Deficiency. Mayo Clin Proc Innov Qual Outcomes. 2019 May 27;3(2):200-214. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocpiqo.2019.03.002. PMID: 31193945; PMCID: PMC6543499.

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By Kelly Burch
Kelly Burch is has written about health topics for more than a decade. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and more.