Get Chills With a Fever

We’ve all been there — as our bodies burn up with fever, we shiver with chills. It turns out that what feels like a bizarre internal thermostat malfunction is actually the body’s way of fighting infection.

Viruses and bacteria multiply best at 98.6 degrees F. By rising the environmental temperature, even by just a degree or two, the body can stop a virus’s ability to grow. That’s why we get fevers.

When the brain increases the body’s temperature set-point, the rest of the body gets confused and feels like it needs to meet that higher temperature. You feel cold because technically you are colder than your body’s new set-point. In turn, the body works to generate heat to warm itself by contracting and relaxing muscles, hence the shivering.

Body Chills With Fever: What You Need to Know

The length of a fever can vary significantly, depending on its cause. Possible sources abound, from colds and the flu to ear and sinus infections, bronchitis, mononucleosis, pneumonia, appendicitis, gastroenteritis, and meningitis.

Other reasons for fever include autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, cancer, blood clots, and even certain medications. In children, fever can flare after immunizations and during teething.

“In some cases with a mild viral illness, a fever can last for a day … or [it can last] for weeks to months with systemic infections,” says Amesh Adalja, MD, an instructor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The first thing to do is play detective to determine the cause of your fever based on the signs and symptoms of your illness, he says.

Body Chills With Fever: When Is Treatment Needed?

The right treatment for body chills with fever depends on the cause, and that’s where your doctor might need to step in. Call your doctor if:

  • The fever is accompanied by serious symptoms like shortness of breath, neck stiffness, headache, rash, swelling of a joint, abdominal pain, or extreme fatigue.
  • The fever is high, or lasts longer than two or three days.
  • You have any serious medical issues and develop a fever.

For infants (under a year old), call the pediatrician if their temperature is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

Call 911 for anything unusual or alarming with fever and chills, such as when someone with a fever does any of the following:

  • Seems confused or cannot be easily awakened.
  • Can’t walk or move an arm or leg.
  • Experiences a seizure.
  • Has difficulty breathing or has a very bad headache or a stiff neck.

Barring any of the above situations, getting through chills and fever calls for sensible care. Rest, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. A lukewarm (not cold) bath might help, as can taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen (don’t give aspirin to children). A little TLC can’t hurt, either.