MedSchool: Ace Your OSCEsThe Medical Company
GET - On the App Store
Deteriorating Patient


February 15th, 2021


Human body temperature is a balance of heat production and heat dissipation, and tends to vary very little within an individual. Temperature is regulated by the hypothalamus, which drives thermoregulatory processes that include vasoconstriction / vasodilation, sweating and shivering.
    • Normal Range

    • 36.0 - 37.5°C

Measuring Temperature

There are a wide variety of methods for measuring body temperature, which may be non-invasive or invasive. The most commonly used methods in clinical practice tympanic and oral methods.
  • Methods of Measuring Body Temperature

  • Non-invasive

  • Orally - an electronic or chemical probe is placed underneath the tongue
  • Axillary - an electronic or chemical probe is placed in the axilla
  • Tympanic - an infrared probe is placed within the external auditory canal 
  • Forehead (non-contact) - an infrared scanner is pointed at the forehead
  • Rectally - an electronic or chemical rectal probe is placed within the rectum
  • Invasive

  • Urinary bladder - a probe is placed in the bladder with an indwelling catheterUsed in intensive care
  • Oesophageal - a probe is placed within the oesophagusUsed in intensive care
  • Ventricular - a probe is placed within the ventricle of the brainUsed in neurosurgical patients in intensive care
  • Pulmonary artery catheter - a probe is placed within the pulmonary arteryGold standard and not used clinically

Increased Body Temperature

Increased temperature most often is related to fevers, however it is important to consider non-inflammatory causes of hyperthermia.
  • Classification

  • Fever - 37.5 - 38.3°C
  • Hyperthermia - 38.4 - 39.9°C
  • Hyperpyrexia - 40 - 41°C
  • Extreme hyperpyrexia - >41.5°C
Fevers occur when the body's 'set point' of temperature is set to a higher level than normal. This results in responses aimed at increasing body temperature, including vasoconstriction and shivering.
Non-inflammatory hyperthermia occurs when there is an imbalance in heat production and heat dissipation.
  • Causes of Increased Body Temperature

  • Fever

  • Infection - bacterial, protozoal, fungal, viral
  • Auto-immune conditions - rheumatoid arthritis, SLE, thyroiditis
  • Thromboembolism - DVT / PE
  • Metabolic disorders - gout
  • Transfusion reactions
  • Abnormal hypothalamic function - stroke, encephalitis, head trauma
  • Non-Inflammatory Causes

  • Excessive heat production - exertion, thyrotoxicosis, phaeochromocytoma, status epilepticus, tetany
  • Poor heat dissipation - heat stroke, dehydration, autonomic dysfunction, excessive clothing
  • Drug-induced - aspirin, stimulants, anticholinergics
  • Malignant hyperthermia (rare reaction to inhaled anaesthetics)

Reduced Body Temperature

Hypothermia is a reduction in human body temperature. This tends to occur due to heat loss from exposure to cold, vasodilation or burns; hypothermia can also occur in the context of reduced heat production, or due to central temperature dysregulation.
  • Classification

  • Mild hypothermia - 34 - 35.9°C
  • Moderate hypothermia - 32 - 33.9°C
  • Severe hypothermia - 30.3 - 31.9°C
  • Profound hypothermia -
  • Causes of Hypothermia

  • Heat Loss

  • Exposure to cold - low ambient temperature, inadequate clothing, water immersion
  • Vasodilation - alcohol ingestion, sepsis, vasodilators
  • Skin loss - burns, dermatitis
  • Treatment for hyperthermia
  • Reduced Heat Production

  • Decreased metabolic rate - hypothyroidism
  • Decreased muscular activity - sedatives, opioids, muscle relaxants
  • CNS Temperature Dysregulation

  • Hypoadrenalism, hypopituitarism, head trauma, stroke
Next Page
Want more info like this?
  • Your electronic clinical medicine handbook
  • Guides to help pass your exams
  • Tools every medical student needs
  • Quick diagrams to have the answers, fast
  • Quizzes to test your knowledge
Sign Up Now

Snapshot: Initialising...