Low Body Temperature

1 Low Body Temperature Summary

Many people have a lower-than-normal body temperature (less than 98.6˚F). Body temperature that is slightly higher or lower than normal is not worrisome, but too low of one (in the range of < 95˚F) is referred to as hypothermia.

Such a drop in body temperature may lead to serious complications and requires medical attention. In severe cases of hypothermia, one’s temperature may drop even further to below 82˚F. As the body temperature decreases, it affects the functioning of many internal organs. If left untreated, it may lead to heart and respiratory failure.

The most common symptoms of low body temperature are:

  • Shivering
  • Reduced rate of breathing
  • Slow speech
  • Clumsiness
  • Stumbling
  • Confusion

Body temperature may be low in a person who has severe fatigue, low pulse, and periods of unconsciousness.

Exposure to cold weather is one of the most common causes of low body temperature, particularly hypothermia. When exposed to low outdoor temperatures, the body temperature also drops considerably.

Certain endocrine conditions are known to cause a reduction in body temperature. Abnormal production of hormones by the thyroid glands, adrenal glands, and pituitary glands, for example, leads to low body temperature.

Some neurological conditions are also implicated in a drop in body temperature. Conditions like stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ruptured brain aneurysm, and brain trauma may impact the balance between heat production and heat loss, leading to reduced body temperature.

Disorders of the hypothalamus may also cause the body temperature to be lower than normal. Certain medications are implicated in low body temperature as well. This includes medications used to treat depression, anxiety, and pain.

Declining kidney function is also a cause of this. Major risk factors for low body temperature are age, mental problems, alcohol and drug abuse, and certain medical conditions and medications.

Low body temperature, particularly hypothermia, leads to complications including an increased risk of cold-related injuries like frostbite and gangrene. Signs and symptoms of the condition are the best indicators for a diagnosis of hypothermia.

Based on the severity of the drop, other tests and investigations may be recommended. Rectal temperature is considered to be a better indicator, particularly when the patient is breathing through the mouth; in this case, oral temperature may give spurious results.

Alcohol and medication history is noted to rule out further possible causes. Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine tests are suggested to check for adrenal insufficiency. If the low body temperature is a chronic condition, sepsis and exposure to a cold environment are ruled out. 

Treatment of low body temperature depends on the severity of the condition. Hypothermia treatment guidelines suggest immediate first aid care for the affected person and includes removing any wet clothing, moving the person to a warm place, covering the person with blankets, insulating the person’s body, monitoring breathing, providing warm beverages, and applying warm compresses.

Warm intravenous fluids, blood rewarming, airway rewarming, and irrigation are possible medical treatments for hypothermia. If the reduction in body temperature is due to other medical conditions, specific treatment methods are followed. Medications to control endocrine abnormalities and neurologic conditions are helpful in controlling the symptom.

2 Causes

Losing body heat faster than it is produced is the actual cause of low body temperature.

Exposure to cold conditions is one of the most common causes of hypothermia. Exposure to a climate that is colder than one’s body temperature may also cause a drop if the person is not dressed appropriately.

Not wearing warm clothes, staying out for a long time, accidental falls in cold water, and inadequate heating at home all may lead to low body temperature. Spending time in cold while drinking alcohol is equally risky, as alcohol causes the blood vessels to expand, which in turn leads to a greater loss of heat from the body.

Age is a risk factor for developing hypothermia. Infants and elderly people have a high risk of hypothermia, as they have a reduced ability to control body temperature. It is important for people in this age group to dress appropriately for cold weather to keep warm.

Endocrine conditions are known to cause low body temperature in many people. The thyroid glands, pituitary glands, and adrenal glands are the three major glands involved in the regulation of temperature in the body. These glands produce hormones that regulate body functions. When the normal amount of hormones is not produced, it leads to a drop in body temperature.

Hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid glands produce less than normal amounts of thyroid hormones, is implicated in the development of this symptom. Hypothalamic dysfunction is also known to cause a reduction in body temperature. Diabetes is an endocrine dysfunction that may lead to low body temperature.

Problems in the nervous system may also cause low body temperature. Stroke is characterized by low body temperature, and Parkinson’s disease also impacts the delicate balance between the production and loss of heat in the body. Multiple sclerosis and rupture of a brain aneurysm may also be associated with a reduction in body temperature. Brain trauma has low body temperature as one of its symptoms as well.

Normal body temperature is regulated by the hypothalamus, an endocrine gland. Any disturbance or disorders that affect the hypothalamus tissues may result in low body temperature.

Alcohol and drug abuse often affect the body’s judgment of cold, as it gives a false impression of warmth. This is caused by the expansion of blood vessels that carry blood to the skin, leading to loss of body heat. It may also lead to loss of consciousness, which, when it occurs outside, is very risky.

Mental illnesses like dementia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder may increase the risk of hypothermia. One of the causes for this change is the inability of patients to dress appropriately according to the weather outside. They often do not realize the risk and stay outdoors for a long time, leading to a drop in body temperature.

Certain medications are related to low body temperature, including antidepressants, sedatives, and anti-psychotic medications. These medications affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature and cause a drop in temperature.

Some severe infections like sepsis also have hypothermia as a symptom. It is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Decline in kidney functioning is also a cause for low body temperature in some people.

3 Diagnosis and Treatment

Medical history, symptoms, and a physical examination provide important clues to suggest a diagnosis of low body temperature. The causes of this symptom are extensive, and diagnostic tests are based on these possible causes.

Taking oral temperature to ascertain low body temperature may turn out to be false if the patient is a mouth breather; rectal temperature gives a better indication of body temperature in hypothermia.

If low body temperature persists for a long time, sepsis and exposure to cold can be ruled out from the list of probable causes. One’s history of alcohol and medications also needs to be checked to rule out their possibility.

If adrenal insufficiency is suspected, BUN and creatinine levels are checked. An ACTH stimulation test may also be suggested in the case of adrenal insufficiency. For other diseases and disorders, specific tests may be recommended.

First aid is ideal for people with hypothermia until medical attention is received. In first aid care:

  • Limit the movement of the affected person and avoid rubbing and massaging. This is important, because excessive or vigorous movement may make the condition serious.
  • The person should be moved to a warmer place, but if this is not possible, shield the person from wind and cold.
  • Wet clothing, if any, should be removed, and the person should be covered with a warm layer of clothing.
  • The person’s body should be insulated from the cold ground.
  • If the person’s pulse cannot be felt, it is important to monitor breathing. If the rate is dangerously slow, CPR should be provided.
  • Give warm beverages to the affected person. The beverage should be non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated for better results.
  • Warm, dry compresses applied onto the neck and chest may also help.

Emergency medical treatment for hypothermia consists of blood rewarming, warm intravenous fluid, airway rewarming, and irrigation. In blood rewarming, blood is drawn out of the body, warmed, and then recirculated.

This is usually done with the help of a hemodialysis machine. Warm intravenous salt water helps keep the body warm and increases body temp. Humidified oxygen given directly may help keep the airways warm. The area around the lungs and abdominal cavity are kept warm by irrigation.

Other treatment methods may vary with the underlying cause of low body temperature. Treating mental illnesses that cause low body temperature helps relieve the symptom. Limiting drug and alcohol use is very important in preventing a drop in body temperature.

Specific medical conditions that lead to low body temperature are treated accordingly. The dosage of medications that cause low body temperature may be altered after discussion with the doctor. If the person works in cold conditions, it is important to discuss this with the doctor before taking these medications.

Herbal and Lifestyle Treatments

A decrease in the rate of metabolism and any other medical conditions one encounters is often due to poor lifestyle choices by the individual. Bringing about changes in diet by including well-balanced meals and increasing one’s activity level can build up the immune system. One should also stay away from toxic items and limit their exposure. Making these healthy changes in lifestyle will help stabilize the rate of metabolism as well as the body’s internal temperature. To boost overall health, one can perform rigorous exercises, such as weight-lifting and interval training, and the diet should include high protein and low carbohydrate content.

Herbal forms of treatment are known to be effective in treating individuals who suffer from low body temperature. Three of the most important herbs are ginger, fennel, and cinnamon bark, as they are known to be some of the most effective herbal treatments and act as natural temperature stimulants. One can easily get these, and they are completely safe for the treatment of a number of other medical conditions as well.

  • Cinnamon bark: Cinnamon bark is known to support overall health in a number of ways, including maintaining the glycemic balance and regulating blood sugar metabolism, both of which are related to internal temperature. Use of cinnamon bark helps with liver detoxification as well as the lymphatic tissues. It is also known to aid in digestion.
  • Ginger: Ginger is very well known for its thermogenic properties. Thus, it is one of the best supplements to increase the body’s temperature and also revitalize the overall health of the individual. As one digests ginger, it naturally uplifts the temperature of the body, thereby increasing the metabolic functioning. Ginger is also loaded with anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a strong antioxidant. It is widely used to treat other types of health conditions as well.
  • Fennel: Fennel is famously known to speed up the rate of metabolism along with breaking down the fat present in the body. It also assists in lessening thyroid symptoms as well as the core condition itself. Fennel is known to be rich in certain minerals, such as calcium. Fennel delivers all the essential and important nutrients to maintain the overall health of the body.

A low body temperature is often linked to symptoms pertaining to other medical conditions rather than the actual disease itself. However, taking some natural treatments will help increase and normalize the body’s temperature along with boosting the individual’s overall health. Apart from the above, there are certain other natural remedies one can try:

  • Coconut oil: Raw coconut oil is known to have a lot of benefits for those suffering from low body temperature. It can be applied on certain parts of the body, such as the nose, and then you tilt your head back slightly and allow the oil to drain into the throat and sinuses. It can also be added to the ears. This can be done prior to going to bed, giving you a nice sleep along with normalizing body temperature. You can also apply it to your skin, as it acts as a natural moisturizer. One can also use coconut oil for cooking, but in moderate quantities. Coconut oil, if consumed in adequate amounts in food, helps increase energy levels in the body and also lessens the feeling of cold in the hands and feet.
  • Keep moving: Movement of the body is very important, as it helps stabilize body temperature.  One can perform exercises, brisk walking, running, jumping jacks, or any other dynamic stretches. You can take breaks, but only for a short time, since stopping for a longer duration causes the cold to set in again and the body temperature to dip. However, one should be cautious while carrying out any rigorous form of exercise or trying high-intensity movements; if an individual with a severe case of hypothermia suddenly jumps or moves, it can trigger cardiac arrest.     
  • Consumption of hot/warm foods or liquids: If one feels cold or the body temperature seems to dip down, the individual should consume foods or drinks that are warm or hot to raise the temperature. Digestion can also raise the temperature, since the body absorbs heat from the food consumed. Hot meals are always welcomed, but beverages that are hot and sweet can be prepared quickly, and, in addition, the sugar in these beverages provides an added boost of calories for digestion, thus increasing temperature. A few good warm beverage options are warm milk, to which you can add honey, if desired, coffee, tea (especially green tea), veggie or non-veggie soup, hot chocolate, and broth. Be sure to eat proper meals, since digestion helps raise body temperature when the body starts to metabolize the food. One should note that the body’s natural efforts to warm up when cold can also lead to a significant increase in metabolism. This means one can burn more calories than normal, thus, consumption of food also ensures one has enough energy being produced in the body, which is very necessary to fuel the body’s innate warming process.
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