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

Dr. David J. Ensz, MD
Family Practitioner

If you have a temperature of 96 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit and you are not suffering from any other signs of infection or illness, your normal temperature may just be lower than that of other people and does not always mean you’re sick.

However, subnormal temperatures may be the sign of health problems. Hypothermia is one of the more obvious symptoms of a subnormal temperature. A normal body temperature in a human registers at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Like your weight, your body temperature fluctuates throughout the day. Sustained periods of time in which you run a fever, or a higher-than-normal temperature, can indicate illness such as hyperthermia.

Body temperature can vary, but it usually ranges between 97.5 and 98.9. About 5 percent 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.

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.

A temperature of 96 degrees F doesn't necessarily mean you're sick. Some people's temperatures just run a bit lower (without any additional symptoms).

Continue Learning about Health Screening & Wellness

What are the difficulties in diagnosing symptoms?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Symptoms of a disease may not be the same in everyone. They can be silent, vague or atypical. And oc...
More Answers
What is a symptom-only diagnosis?
William B. Salt II., MDWilliam B. Salt II., MD
Symptoms are simply described as a diagnosis, without an attempt to propose a cause for them. Exam...
More Answers
What Is One Way to Improve My Relationship with My Doctor?
What Is One Way to Improve My Relationship with My Doctor?
Why Should I Have Preventive Screenings If I Don't Have Health Problems?
Why Should I Have Preventive Screenings If I Don't Have Health Problems?

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.