The normal human body temperature is 98.6°F. However, many people are not aware of the fact that this number can change depending on the time of the day, as well the activity level of the individual. In general, body temperature can fluctuate as much as 1 degree below or above 98.6°F throughout the day. Usually, the temperature of the body is low before dawn, but higher in the afternoon. The temperature of the body is considered an indicator of the rate of metabolism, i.e., the rate at which food is converted into energy.
Our body maintains the normal temperature by a mechanism, known as thermoregulation. When we feel cold, the hypothalamus stimulates the constriction of the blood vessels, so as to reduce the flow of blood to the skin. This helps conserve heat and bring the temperature to the normal level. On the other hand, when it is too hot, the hypothalamus stimulates the dilation of the blood vessels of the skin. This enables heat to be transferred to the surface of the skin, and as a result, one starts to sweat. This helps lower the temperature of the body. Certain conditions can impair this normal mechanism, and cause the temperature to rise or fall below the normal range.
Factors that Can Lower Body Temperature
A slight fluctuation in body temperature is quite normal, and is not a major health concern. However, if the temperature falls below 95°F or 35°C, then it can be a serious medical condition, which is known as hypothermia. Hypothermia is the condition that usually results from an excessive exposure to cold, or not wearing sufficient warm clothes in the winter, or a fall in cold water. Hypothermia can be a life-threatening condition at times. Many times, this condition is aggravated by the consumption of alcohol, as alcohol dilates the blood vessels and causes more heat to be lost from the body.
Apart from the exposure to cold air and water, infections can lower the body temperature in babies and elderly below the normal range. A severe infection like septicemia or sepsis can cause a drop in body temperature in both children and adults. It can sometimes lead to a life-threatening condition called septic shock.
Some other possible causes of chronic hypothermia are, an underactive thyroid gland or hypothyroidism, metabolic disorders, nutritional deficiencies, alcohol or drug abuse, diseases related to the heart and blood circulation, hypoglycemia, adrenal insufficiency, liver diseases, anemia, major trauma and mental stress, and eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of gaining weight even though one is underweight or emaciated. Such a fear often compels the sufferer to restrict the consumption of food, and exercise excessively.
Symptoms of Low Body Temperature
A significant drop in body temperature can cause shivering and make the skin pale and cold to touch. The body can fail to carry out its normal metabolic processes at such a low temperature. If the condition aggravates, then it can lead to slow heartbeat and breathing, mental confusion, excessive weakness, drowsiness, loss of coordination, and purple fingers and toes. If not treated immediately, this condition can lead to cardiac arrest and shock.
The treatment of this condition depends on the underlying causes, which can be ascertained by a physician. An acute case of hypothermia can require immediate medical attention. In the meantime, the patient should be covered properly with blankets to prevent the further loss of heat from the body. Also provide him or her some hot fluids like soup, if possible. But avoid beverages like alcohol. If the person is wearing wet clothes, then immediately replace them with dry clothing. You can also use warm compress to increase the body temperature of the individual.
To prevent hypothermia, be sure to wear proper clothing during winter, especially while going out. Take hot fluids and warm food to keep yourself warm during the winter days, especially if you are living in a place where temperature falls to a significantly low level in winter. The elderly and young children living in such places are more likely to experience a drop in their body temperature. If body temperature falls below the normal range, then be sure to inform your physician as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.