Where is the temperature of a dead body measured?

January 14, 2010

The temperature of a dead body is an important element in the investigation of any unexplained death. This fact helps establish the time of death, which, along with many other facts and deductions, will help the police to come to a conclusion. Normal body temperature is accepted as 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In life, natural metabolic processes help to keep this temperature more or less stable at all times. After death however, the body temperature starts to drop. Any object tends to lose or absorb heat in an effort to reach the same temperature as its surroundings, and the human body is no different. In general, the human body temperature goes down by one degree every hour after death. By taking a temperature reading, investigators are thus able to estimate how many hours have passed since the death occurred.

An important point to remember here is that core body temperature is what is relevant. When we say that normal body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius, we are referring to core body temperature, as opposed to surface body temperature. Surface temperature is usually lower than core temperature, and is also less stable. Core temperature is a much more reliable indicator of time of death. Normally, we measure our temperature by placing the thermometer under the tongue. While this reading is more accurate than an under arm reading, it is still not really the core temperature of the body. Thus these methods of measuring temperature are not useful when measuring the temperature of a dead body. What investigators need is the temperature of the internal organs, and to measure this, investigators may either take a rectal reading or they may make an incision in the abdomen, in the area of the liver. For a rectal reading, the thermometer must be inserted at least four inches inside the rectum to get the core temperature. This is the most commonly used technique. If an incision is made, then the thermometer is inserted into the liver, and this reading is taken. Of course, this method damages the liver, and this may hinder later investigations. Many investigators therefore avoid using this method.

There are also other methods of measuring core body temperature. Sometimes, investigators may drill a hole in the skull and measure the temperature of the brain. In other cases, the thermometer may be inserted in the vagina, similar to the rectal method.

Submitted by M T on January 14, 2010 at 08:18

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