A body temperature of 98.6°
is anything but normal as we age
Newswise — The 98.6° F “normal”
benchmark for body temperature comes to us from Dr. Carl Wunderlich,
a 19th-century German physician who collected and analyzed over a
million armpit temperatures for 25,000 patients.
Some of Wunderlich’s observations have stood up over time, but his
definition of normal has been debunked, says the April issue of the
Harvard Health Letter.
A study published years ago in the Journal of
the American Medical Association found the average normal
temperature for adults to be 98.2°, not 98.6°, and replaced the
100.4° fever mark with fever thresholds based on the time of day.
Now, researchers at Winthrop
University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., have found support for another
temperature truism doctors have long recognized: Older people have
In a study of 150 older people with an average
age of about 81, they found that the average temperature never
reached 98.6°. These findings suggest that even when older people
are ill, their body temperature may not reach levels that people
recognize as fever.
On the other hand, body temperatures that are
too low (about 95°) can also be a sign of illness.
The bottom line is that individual
variations in body temperature should be taken into account, reports
the Harvard Health Letter. Ideally, you and your doctor should have
enough temperature measurements at various times of day to establish
a baseline for you. Short of this, recognize that 98.6° isn’t the
benchmark that we’ve long believed it to be.