Does a temperature of 96 degrees F mean I'm sick?

Thaung M. Aung, MD
Internal Medicine
Theoretically, since we’re warm-blooded creatures, we have a system in place to maintain our body temperature. We’re set at around 97.8 to 99 degrees as the norm, but there are some people out there who claim to have a low resting body temperature. Also, there’s some evidence that older people have a lower average body temperature than younger people. However, for most people, a temperature of 96 is not normal. It could be an error with your thermometer. In some cases, a low temperature could mean you’re experiencing a serious condition called shock.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider.
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
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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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.