MadSci Network: Anatomy

Re: at what temperature (fahrenheit) does the human body freeze?

Date: Tue Feb 13 10:06:56 2001
Posted By: Thiam Hock, Tan, Secondary School Teacher, Science, Dunman High School
Area of science: Anatomy
ID: 979095744.An

Dear Hope,

When a person is extremely cold, or suddenly exposed to low temperatures, he or she may suffer from hypothermia. Hypothermia (in humans) is when a person's core body temperature is roughly below 95 degrees Farenheit (35 degrees centigrade). The core body temperature is the temperature of the inside of the body, not just the temperature under your armpit or under your tongue, though those come close to the core temperature. If someone suffers from hypothermia for a long time, or has a very low body temperature, he/she may die of it.

As you know, your body produces heat constantly as it processes energy for itself to use. To stay functioning, your cells must stay at a certain temperature. Too far above or below that level, the body starts to shut down, as it does not have enough fuel to keep the temperature high enough.

At a core body temperature of 95 degrees Farenheit, the normal muscular and cerebral (from cerebrum, Latin for brain. cerebral means 'related to the brain') functions of a human are impaired, so normal functioning cannot occur. This page gives a brief overview of some symptoms of hypothermia, and discusses how to dress properly for the cold. Of course, even if the core of your body (i.e. the main organs in your torso and your brain) are at a suitable temperature, your extremities (the fingers and toes and ears) mays still suffer from frostbite, where the blood vessels become constricted, and the body part may start to decay because it has no blood circulating there (gangrene).

Therefore, the temperature at which you die from the cold does not depend on the temperature outside yourself, but the temperature inside yourself. People can walk (or waddle like penguins) perfectly well in the Antarctic, which is the coldest place on Earth, but can die from the cold in their back yard. It all depends on how well you dress up to defend yourself from the cold. Well, if you are 'dressed for the cold', there is no reason why you should get hurt. So, prepare yourself properly and you should not be hurt.

Keep up your interest in science!

Thiam Hock "Woolen Mittens" Tan


Treating hypothermia, American College of Emergency Physicians
Interesting site, discusses treatment
MEDLINEplus Health info on hypothermia
Definition and some introduction from
Birdwood, George, et al. What to do in an Emergency. London, Reader's Digest. 1st ed., 1986.

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