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General Medical Questions
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Question : My temperature is 96F. Isn't this too low? Can it be a sign of an illness?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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April 01, 2011
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A:

Body temperature can vary, but it usually ranges between 97.5 and 98.9. About 5% of the population has a temperature slightly higher or lower.

Low body temperature may be related to illness. But it's often related more to the way the temperature is measured than to the health of the person.

Low body temperature may be associated with:

  • Severe infection
  • Certain medications or toxins (including alcohol)
  • Hormonal disease (including underactive thyroid, pituitary or adrenal glands)
  • Kidney failure
  • Low blood sugar or malnutrition
  • Neurologic (brain) disease
  • Prolonged exposure to a cold environment

However, many people with a low measured temperature are healthy and have a normal body temperature. The low measured temperature could be from:

  • A bad thermometer
  • The person just had something cold to eat or drink
  • The thermometer wasn't under the tongue
  • The mouth was open

Also, your temperature will be lower (by about 1 degree) if it's measured in the armpit rather than mouth.

If you feel well and do not seem to be at risk for any of the diseases listed above, your temperature may be normal. Or, your low temperature may be normal for you. But if you have concerns, see your doctor. He or she will review any symptoms you may have, examine you and re-check your temperature. Depending on the findings, additional evaluation and treatment may be needed.

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