The normal body temperature of an average adult ranges from 97°F to 99°F, with 98.6°F as its baseline. Any higher than that and a person suffers from a fever, while any lower could be a symptom of a number of different diseases.
High Body Temperature
A fever is usually a symptom of an illness. It is the body’s way of telling a person that something is wrong. When a person experiences chills, this is his immune system telling him that he has an infection or that a virus has invaded his body. It could also mean that there is an abnormality occurring in his brain or one of his organs, or that he has a tissue injury that he may not be aware of.
A small gland in the brain called the hypothalamus regulates a person’s body temperature. When the climate is cold, the hypothalamus keeps the body hot by inducing shivers. When it is hot, it keeps the body cool by opening the blood vessels near the skin to induce sweating. When fever-inducing substances called pyrogens attack the body, the immune system sends signals to the hypothalamus, which in return increases the temperature of the person in an attempt to normalize his body temperature. This often causes an uncomfortable feeling accompanied by shivers.
Pyrogens come from different sources outside the body. These include bacteria and viruses, fungi, and drugs and toxins. Viruses are the most common type of pyrogen, and usually bring with them various illnesses, like the flu. Bacteria and fungi could both cause infections and inflammations in different tissues and organs. Drugs and toxins, on the other hand, could poison the body and cause a high fever.
Low Body Temperature
Exposure to cold weather could send signals to the hypothalamus and induce shivering. This is also true when a person wears wet clothes for more than a few minutes. But aside from being caused by these external factors, a low body temperature could be a symptom of any one of these diseases: cancer, diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney or liver failure, sepsis, or Addison’s disease. It could also mean that a person is suffering from shock or insomnia. Stress could also cause the temperature of a body to drop below normal, while substance abuse such as alcohol and drugs could do the same.
A person who has a temperature that is lower than normal often exhibits uncontrollable shivering, goose bumps, and loud chattering of the teeth. Aside from these obvious signs, he may also feel drowsy or tired, experience difficulty in breathing, and show confusion and lack of coordination. His extremities, such as his fingers and toes, may turn purple or blue.
Keeping Cool or Warm
It is important for the body to maintain normal temperatures in order to function properly. A rise or drop in temperature usually causes discomfort and hampers a person’s ability to carry on with his daily tasks.
Because of this, it is advisable for a person to listen to his body whenever he feels a change in his temperature. Simple rest usually does the trick (especially when the temperature drop is caused by fatigue), as well as a change in environment (e.g., adjusting the thermostat or temperature of the air conditioning, drinking a cold glass of water).
When a person suffers from a fever for more than five days, then it is time to visit a doctor to find out what is wrong. The same goes true for chronic drops in temperature. Remember that the average temperature of adults is 98.6°F, and anything too high or too low relative to that could indicate a problem in the body that needs immediate attention.