A fever is something that makes many people feel a bit unsettled. This is particularly the case with parents when their children are affected.
It is easy to see why people often feel disturbed when you consider some scary conditions that it has come to be associated with. However, it doesn’t always suggest something gloomy. Read on to learn about some conditions or causes that may lead to you having a fever.
What is a fever?
Also known as pyrexia, fever describes a condition of having a body temperature that is higher than what is considered normal. It is usually taken as a sign that something not so good is happening in the body.
Talking about what is “normal” body temperature; the threshold is somewhat subjective. It can range from 36.1 degrees Celsius to 38.3 degrees Celsius, depending on sources. If you’re having a body temperature higher than that, then you’re likely running a fever.
Also, normal body temperature isn’t fixed – it varies throughout the day. It can be lower in the morning and higher later in the day. However, if the adult temperature gets to 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit), Mayo Clinic says that may be a cause for concern.
Fever ranks among the most common medical signs and presents in the majority of adults that are sick. Other symptoms that are often present alongside it are:
- Loss of appetite
- Chills and shivering
- Muscle aches
It may be worth stating that a fever isn’t necessarily the same as hyperthermia, although they are often deemed synonymous. The latter refers to elevated body temperature due to excessive heat production or inadequate heat loss.
How fever occurs?
Fever isn’t really a bad thing. It is a sign that your body’s defense mechanism is working. It only becomes a concern when it gets too high (103+ degrees Celsius) or lasts for more than a few hours.
You feel it when a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus is triggered. This area, which functions somewhat like a thermostat, is responsible for regulating body temperature.
When exposed to an infectious or stressful agent, a substance known as pyrogen induces fever. It promotes the release of prostaglandin E2. This naturally-occurring compound, in turn, triggers the hypothalamus to regulate your body’s temperature upward.
There is an increase in the body’s heat generation in response to prostaglandin E2. This is in order to match a new, higher target that has just been set. As a result, you may experience chills and shivering as your body struggles to generate more heat.
With a fever, you may also experience vasoconstriction to prevent the loss of heat from your body.
This process is reversed when your fever comes under control either on its own or through the use of medication. You stop shivering and experience vasodilation, thereby reducing heat production and cooling your body.
Conditions that produce fever as a symptom
Many medical disorders exhibit fever among their symptoms. It is not unusual to see many people quickly link it to cold and flu. However, there may be something more worrisome, or less so, to blame.
We briefly examine here a number of the conditions or diseases that may exhibit fever as a symptom.
Immunological and inflammatory disorders
Rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and certain other inflammatory disorders can make you feel feverish. This is because they make your body release pyrogens into your bloodstream, causing the hypothalamus to raise your body temperature. And this explains why you may have a fever whenever you’re passing through an episode of these conditions.
Other related conditions that may also produce this symptom include:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Horton disease
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Kawasaki disease
- Relapsing polychondritis
- Granulomatosis with polyangiitis
Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs)
If you were to contract certain STIs, elevated body temperature is one of the tell-tale signs of a problem somewhere. Untreated gonorrhea, for instance, can lead to high fevers that may be accompanied by a rash. Also, high body temperature may result if you have syphilis that you failed to treat properly.
Apart from STIs, many other types of infectious diseases can cause you to develop a fever. These include those brought on by parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
In fact, an infection should be the factor to consider if you feel a medical reason is behind your fever. Cold and flu, which are often suspected, are caused by viruses, most notably rhinoviruses and influenza viruses.
Your body releases pyrogens when it detects parasites, bacteria, and viruses in an attempt to get rid of them. A fever is, therefore, a sign that your body is combating such infections. What could be deemed concerning is if your temperature remains elevated for longer than normal.
Malaria, Dengue, gastroenteritis, COVID-19, Ebola, and Lyme diseases are also among other infectious diseases that can produce a fever.
You can feel somewhat feverish when you are trying to quit drinking. Alcohol interferes with the working of the central nervous system. Therefore, there can be a rise in your body temperature when trying to quit drinking, especially in the first few days. This is because your central nervous system is attempting to regain its normal functioning.
Alcohol intake can lead to dependence and addiction. When these are an issue, your body responds in an unpleasant way whenever you aren’t drinking. You experience muscle contractions and shivering as your body tries to improve heat production.
Problems related to the levels of hormones in your body can cause a fever. For instance, hormonal changes that women often experience with menopause often make body temperature to be higher than normal. This is what people usually refer to as hot flashes.
A sudden surge in the amount of thyroid hormone may also produce a fever. This phenomenon is called thyroid storm, a rare but life-threatening problem. In addition to tremors, this complication of a heart attack and other stressors can also present rapid heartbeat and risky blood pressure swings.
Some women experience a rise in their body temperature when their monthly flow starts. This may be due to severe inflammation of the pelvis as a result of a disorder called endometriosis. The painful condition results when the endometrium, tissue that typically lines the uterus, grows outside the womb.
Apart from a fever, this disorder causes bleeding into the stomach, severe period cramps, and pain while urinating or having sex.
This dreaded disorder can make a person develop a fever. However, it shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind if you’re feeling a little unwell. Fever isn’t a major symptom of cancer.
Diverse forms of cancer have been linked to this symptom. Blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphomas, are in particular more commonly associated with it.
The inflammatory response that these disorders encourage is what mainly leads to a fever. Cytokines that cancer cells release promote this outcome as well. This sort doesn’t go away easily or without treatment due to how hard it is for the body to control these cancers.
In addition to the foregoing, metabolic disorders, such as gout and Fabry disease, can have fever as a symptom. Tissue destruction associated with certain conditions, including hemolysis, cerebral bleeding, and infarction, may cause it as well.
Other causes of fever
Among the other potential factors that can make you have a fever are:
Surgery – If you recently had a procedure, that may well be the reason for an increase in your temperature. This is known as postoperative fever. In some cases, it occurs as a result of anesthetic agents used in procedures. Research shows that up to about 9 in every 10 patients experience this, although it usually resolves without treatment.
Medications – Fever may be a side effect of a medicine that you’re using. For example, drugs that are used for the treatment of high blood pressure can cause it. Antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and even antimalarials may also induce it. You should, therefore, suspect the medicines you’re taking if noticed this sign after you started taking them.
Immunization – Certain vaccines have fevers as a side effect. Doctors give these to prepare your body against possible future infections. However, when you get a vaccine, your body might think it’s an infection and thus responds with a fever. Vaccines against pneumococcal disease, diphtheria, and tetanus are among those that can produce this reaction.
Overexertion – Fevers sometimes result when people exert themselves too hard, especially when outdoors. This can happen when you exercise or involve yourself in any form of overexertion in a hot environment. If natural mechanisms such as sweating don’t cool your body well and you don’t take steps to ensure that, your temperature may continue to go up.
Fevers may also occur when you are exposed to a new environment, such as when traveling to another country.
In some cases, however, it is not possible to pin down the cause of an increase in body temperature. Such may be called fever of unknown origin.
Fever, in and of itself, does not require treatment in most cases. You can, however, take medications to deal with associated symptoms, such as inflammation and discomfort. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are examples of drugs that are used for this purpose and to reduce body temperature. They are especially helpful in children.
Fans, air conditioners, and ice may also help to cool your body and provide some relief. There is little evidence that bathing or sponging with lukewarm water can be beneficial in kids as well.
The treatment of fevers depends mainly on their underlying causes. If it is due to an infection, for instance, you may need to control that before your temperature can reduce. The use of antipyretics, such as ibuprofen, will not do much in these cases.
Evidence from animal studies shows impaired outcomes when antipyretics were used to treat fever due to influenza.
While it can be quite uncomfortable, a fever does not constitute a major threat to adults. This remains true even in the majority of cases where it is left untreated.
Research shows that rarely do untreated fevers go beyond 105.08°F (40.6 degrees Celsius). Brain damage, a possible complication, doesn’t occur until temperatures get to 107.6°F (42 degrees Celsius).
High body temperature is more of a concern in children with ages ranging from a few months to five years. It may lead to febrile seizures, or fever-induced convulsions, in this group if care is not taken. This causes the shaking of limbs and loss of consciousness.
However, most febrile seizures stop without any intervention and produce no lasting effects.
When should you consult a doctor?
Except in certain situations, a fever is nothing to lose sleepover. Persistently elevated body temperature higher than 100.94°F (38.3 degrees Celsius ) could be enough reason to see your doctor, though.
Mayo Clinic states that adults with a temperature of 102.92 °F (39.4 degrees Celsius) or higher should see a doctor.
Immediate care will be helpful if you notice symptoms including the following:
- Intense fatigue
- Severe rash
- Constant vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Severe headache
- Abdominal pain
- Mental confusion
It is advisable to speak with a doctor if your child isn’t making eye contact or responding to facial expressions when having a fever. The signs you may notice to confirm a need for urgent medical attention include:
- Elevated body temperature lasting more than three days
- Persistent vomiting
An increase in an infant’s body temperature without an obvious reason is sufficient to seek medical help. A rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38 degrees Celsius), or higher, in a baby younger than three months, needs attention. A reading of 102.02°F (38.9 degrees Celsius), or higher, in those between ages 3 and 24 months is a cause for concern.
If your child experiences a seizure, take him or her to a doctor afterward to find out the cause. You should seek urgent medical help if an episode of such goes beyond five minutes.
The state of a person’s health generally determines how soon they should consult a doctor when having a fever. People with weakened immune systems, persons with underlying conditions, and pregnant women are among those to seek help more quickly.