98.6 Degrees? – What’s normal body temperature?

When it comes to body heat, you could be a red-hot mama or a cool-hand Luke and not even know it.

“Few people actually have a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) at any given time,” says Clark Blatteis, a physiology professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. “In an average population, you see a range of two to three degrees plus or minus the so-called normal.”

These “normal” temperatures — “setpoints” usually between 35 and 38 degrees Celsius, or 95 to 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit — vary with the individual. To find your setpoint, take your temperature several times a day at the same hour for two weeks. “At birth, infants have a significantly higher temperature — 38 to 39 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees to 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit),” says Blatteis, “but they cool rapidly and stabilize within a few days at a fairly constant setpoint.”

What's normal body temperature

Knowing your family’s setpoints can come in handy when diagnosing fevers, says Dr. J. Lynn Lyon, a University of Utah family and preventive medicine professor. “Hospitals know there’s a cycle in which individual temperatures vary two to three degrees between morning and evening, with morning temperatures often being deceptively low and rising in late afternoon.”

Many other factors also can raise or lower body temperatures, including stress; environmental temperature; exercise; eating; drinking hot, cold or alcoholic beverages; or taking certain drugs, such as cocaine and narcotic sedatives.

Gender also plays a role. Women usually have higher core body temperatures and colder hands than men, says Dr. Lyon, who studied this in 219 people and published the results in the journal Lancet. Furthermore, premenopausal women generally go up another degree or so just after ovulation, says Dr. Lyon — a fact useful to couples trying to conceive.

What’s the best way to scope out your sizzle point? The jury’s still out on that one. Blatteis favors “plain old mercury” thermometers inserted under the tongue (or preferably between the buns!), while Dr. Lyon recommends “instant” infrared ear thermometers.

To add to the confusion, other experts, such as Dr. Jack G. Modell of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, caution consumers to test before buying expensive infrared thermometers. “If you get more than one-half degree difference between oral and ear temperatures,” he advises, “I’d be worried (about that brand).”

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