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98.6 Degrees Fahrenheit Is Not the Average Body Temperature, It Declines With Age

Not as Average as You Think

It used to be that when I got sick, a temperature reading of 98.6°F was enough to persuade me that I didn't have anything serious. But a recent article in the New York Times says that 98.6 isn't so average after all. Suddenly what I thought was my safe zone is just slightly off.

Although resting body temperatures vary between individuals, a study found that on average it's 98.2°F — not 98.6 as once believed. The results of the study also show that body temperatures increase over the course of the day.

This seems pretty minor, I mean what's a few tenths of a degree? Not much, until you consider that with every decade our body temperature declines, as well. This becomes even more of an issue among the elderly. A study confirms that many nursing-home patients with serious infections had temperatures below 101°F, which is usually where concern comes in relation to temperature reading. And their temperatures remained below 101°F even though they had an increase of 2.4 degrees or more, which can be indicative of a serious fever.


In light of these new findings it seems like a good idea to check your temperature on a series of "well" days. That way, you have a sense of what your average body temperature, which can be used as a gauge to measure yourself against when you're sick. I know I will definitely be doing this.

Beyond that, I think this article is also a good example that regardless of what a measuring instrument may say or not say about your health, it's good to listen to your body. If you feel like there's something serious going on, never hesitate to call your doctor.

fauxcat fauxcat 7 years
Wackdoodle, what a terrible story! I'm so sorry that you had to go through that. Sometimes, I think, we have to act unnaturally (for us) to get through to certain kinds of people. I'm also a very stoic, quiet, and polite person, and I've been walked all over and ignored by doctors because of it. Since then, I know to be MUCH more forceful, insistent, theatrical, dramatic, etc., if I see that the situation warrants it. Even if it's out of character, let yourself freak out once in a while.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
I'm 26 now, and my average temperature has been 97.6 for a couple years. But the weird thing is that it was around 98.6 or just slightly below when I was a kid and through my early twenties. I'm not sure what caused it to change, other than just getting older.
kia kia 7 years
My basal body temperature upon waking varies between 97.3 and 98.1 depending where I am in my menstrual cycle (I know this from charting for the fertility awareness method). I get just under 98.6 when I am awake and have been functioning through my day.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 7 years
YEs 98.6 is an average - and not everyone is average. My normal body temp is 97.1. Has been since I was a kid. My mom's was 96.7. And my sister's is 97.5. Whenever I go to the ER for some violent illness I tell them over and over again that my normal temp is 97.1, it dips during my periods but if my temp says 99.7 then I am running a fever = to 100+. They just stare then eventually realize that I am right by reviewing my records. Low body temp, low blood pressure, low resting heart rate, I don't get hysterical or scream out when I'm in extreme pain (I do curse quietly), I'm from a family of circus freaks. Just went to the ER two months ago at 3am because I was having intense stabbing pain in my gut and the pain woke me up. The on-call doctor said go to the ER immediately. I did took a cab - though I was in excuriating pain sit in the bumpy cab quietly every once in a while gasping at the pain but never screaming. Only eeked when I went to go out of the cab and a huge stabbing pain struck my gut at that moment. Once in the ER at first they ignored me because I was very calm and quiet then the nurse noticed that I was gasping for air and crying quietly. I couldn't even muster up enough breathe or fight over the pain to speak to the ER registrar person, I just gave her my wallet and put my head down on her desk while I cried in pain. The ER nurse put me in a wheel chair took my vitals and went "Well your temp is 99.8, normal. And your BP is 120/60 (its usually 90/50 or so rarely in the 100s) and pulse is wow 120. Are you in pain?" I couldn't even speak by then I felt faint was sure that I was going to pass out. Longer story short - ER doctors dismissed everything because I wasn't screaming out in pain, just gasping for breathe and crying and gagging. And they couldn't figure out what was wrong by standing near me holding their hot coffee. Finally after 30 minutes of standing near me they decided to do a physical exam before discharging me "cause its probably nothing". They did the physical exam and felt a mass in my gut then they sent me for a CT Scan and saw a huge and lovely bowel obstruction or what they thought was an obstruction (it was form bowel ischemia). Yeah everything was super normal docs. They went into panic mode, I just lay in the ER tears streaming down my face in pain because well my vital fit the average category - no consideration as to what is normal for me. After everything yet again a surgeon tells me "You could have died if we hadn't caught this. But we really didn't catch it because you weren't reacting like you should have?" Huh? I react how I have always been -stoic i the face of extreme pain. I told the doctor that yes I was in pain - it rated a 10 out of 10. I flinched when they pushed on my gut but couldn't scream cause I couldn't breathe when they pushed in a painful spot. Yeah, small consolation when they were about to send me home without the CT Scan until me insurance company and on-call suggested it. I told them that I do not go to the ER and waster their time unless I feel like I'm going to pass out or the pain is beyond what I can control at home or I'm ordered by my doctor to go. Even then I am reluctant because ER doctors tend to try to pass off serious signs of a problem to your regular physician. Only time I ever screamed in the hospital is the two times now that I've woken up in recovery after they've removed a large section of bowel. It's cause I'm not aware because of the anesthesia - and man I'll tell you your intestines have a lot nerves or at least mine do and they all hate when surgeons remove their fellow intestines. Worst pain ever, worse than the pain that made me go to the hospital. Anyway, end of rant about ERs and averages. Have a happy and safe NYE everyone.
only-so-cute only-so-cute 7 years
My average temperature is somewhere around 96.8. when i was younger my mom had a hard time convincing my doctors that a temperature of 99 was something to be concerned about. of course since my dad was in the military my doctor changed all the time.
poizenisxkandee poizenisxkandee 7 years
my friend's boyfriend did this. when they moved in together, he took her "baseline temperature", or her specific average temperature just in case. it became useful, i only know about it because when she got sick, she mentioned thats how they knew.
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