Causes of Low Body Temperature in Adults

In adults, low body temperature or hypothermia, as it is known in medical terminology, can be attributed to a range of underlying conditions, right from alcoholism to brain damage.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2018
How is the Body Temperature Hampered?
One of the most important functions of the brain is to maintain the body temperature, which it does with some help from organs, like skin, lungs, etc. At an ideal body temperature, all the functions that are being carried out by various organs can take place without any hindrance. However, there are certain conditions wherein the normal temperature regulation process of the body is hampered, and this, can cause the body temperature to either increase (hyperthermia) or decrease (hypothermia).
Hypothermia is of two types:
(i) Primary hypothermia, wherein the body's heat balancing mechanism is working properly, but the body is subjected to extreme temperature.
(ii) Secondary hypothermia, wherein the body's temperature regulation center is not functioning properly.
What Are the Causes of Low Body Temperature in Adults?
The Normal Body Temperature
The normal body temperature, when taken orally, is around 98.2 +/- 1.3°F (36.8 +/- 0.7°C). If the range is not taken into consideration, then the approximate body temperature is said to be around 98.6°F (37.0°C). Anything less than 98.6°F can be considered low body temperature. So, how does such a situation occur? Basically, any condition that hinders the heat production, heat loss mechanism, or affects thermoregulation can cause the body temperature to fall.
Given below is a brief information about various causes of the same.
Hypothermia is one of the numerous short-term effects of alcohol on the human body. Alcoholism has this risk associated with it because of the tendency of alcohol to affect the brain and circulatory system. Alcohol leads to vasodilation, i.e., dilation of blood vessels, which leads to more blood reaching the skin and extremities. This leads to flushing which makes the person feel warm, thus leading to loss of heat. While alcohol can only lead to very mild and transient hypothermia, it can complicate cases of preexistent hypothermia at times.
Cold Environment
Needless to say, being subjected to a cold environment is also one of the causes of low body temperature. This can happen when the body is subjected to cold air or immersed in cold water. In fact, the latter can lead to more serious and faster damage to the body, as cold water tends to cause more heat loss compared to air. Furthermore, heat loss due to cold air is gradual, and it may take a few hours for the effects to surface, whereas, heat loss due to cold water is fast and more severe with cold-related injuries, like chilblains and frostbite, setting in and making it even more difficult―impossible at times―for the body to maintain its core temperature.
Yet another cause of hypothermia is hypothyroidism. Basically, thyroid hormones are responsible for maintaining the basal metabolic rate of the body. When the same goes down, it leads to shivering, and the body finds it difficult to maintain its temperature. Low body temperature resulting from hypothyroidism is usually observed in the morning.
Other Causes
Other conditions that can lead to malfunctioning of the heat control center in the brain include stroke, bacterial infection, uncontrolled diabetes, severe malnutrition, spinal cord disorders or injuries, side effects of certain medicines, etc. However, these conditions are usually accompanied by various other symptoms as well; hypothermia is not always the first symptom to be seen. Furthermore, certain types of head injuries may also damage the judgment and thermoregulatory center of the brain (hypothalamus), which in turn, may lead to hypothermia.
The treatment for hypothermia depends on the underlying cause. With many underlying conditions coming into play―some of which are quite serious―low body temperature, as a symptom, should not be ignored. Ideally, the treatment process has to be initiated at the earliest so as to prevent any kind of severe or irreversible damage to body organs.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.