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Fever

Definition


Disease: Fever Fever
Category: Other Diseases

Disease Definition:

A fever usually indicates that something out of the ordinary is going on in a person's body. Although a fever isn’t usually dangerous unless it reaches 39.4 C (103 F) or higher, however, it could be quite uncomfortable for an adult. A slightly elevated temperature could indicate a serious infection in young children and infants.

 

The seriousness of the underlying condition isn’t necessarily indicated by the degree of the fever. A serious illness could cause a low fever, while a minor illness could cause a high fever.

 

Within a few days, usually a fever goes away. A fever is sometimes better left untreated, but there are a number of over-the-counter medications that could lower it. It seems that fever plays a key role in helping the body fight off a number of infections.
 

Work Group:


Symptoms, Causes

Symptoms:

Somebody's body temperature rises above its normal range when they have a fever. What’s normal for a person could be a little higher or lower than the average temperature of 37 C (98.6 F).

 

Listed below are some of the additional fever symptoms depending on what’s causing the fever:

 

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shivering
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle aches
  • General weakness

 

High fever that is between 39.4 C and 41.1 C (103 F and 106 F) could cause:

 

  • Irritability
  • Convulsions
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

 

FEVER INDUCED SEIZURES:

Fever-induced seizures (febrile seizures) are experienced by a small percentage of children younger than age 5. Convulsions and a brief loss of consciousness are some of the signs of febrile seizures, which occur when a child’s temperature rises or falls rapidly.

 

Most of these seizures don’t cause any lasting effects despite the fact that they could be alarming. Roseola, which is a common viral infection that causes a high fever, swollen glands and a rash, is one of the common childhood illnesses that could trigger febrile seizures.

 

Even though fevers by themselves might not be alarming, or even a cause to call a doctor, however, parents should seek medical advice for their child or themselves in some circumstances:

Infants:

In children, an unexplained fever is a greater cause for concern than in adults. If a baby has a fever of 38.3 (101 F) or higher, parents should call their baby’s doctor. They should also call the baby’s doctor in case he/she:

 

  • Refuses to eat or drink
  • Is younger than 3 months of age
  • Has a fever and unexplained irritability, including marked crying when moved or during a diaper change
  • Is a newborn and has a lower than normal temperature, less than 36.1 C (97 F). When very young babies are ill, they may become cold rather than hot because they may not regulate their body temperature well.
  • Has a fever and seems lethargic and unresponsive. These could be signs of meningitis in infants and children younger than age 2. Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Parents should see a doctor immediately in case they suspect that their baby may have meningitis.
Children:

Despite the fact that high temperatures could cause parents concern, however, children usually tolerate fevers well. It’s best to be guided not only by the temperature measurement, but also by how the child acts. In case the child is drinking fluids, playing and is responsive, which means making eye contact and responding to facial expressions and voices, there’s usually no cause for concern.

 

However, parents should call their child’s doctor in case he/she:

 

  • Has a fever that persists longer than one day in children younger than age 2, or longer than three days in children of age 2 and older.
  • Has a fever after being left in a hot car. In this case immediate medical care should be sought.
  • Is listless of irritable, vomits repeatedly, has a severe headache or stomachache or has any other symptoms causing significant discomfort.

 

In case a child has special circumstances, such as immune system problems or problems with a pre-existing illness, parents should ask the doctor for guidance. In case a child has just started taking a new prescription medicine, different precautions may be recommended.

 

Older children could sometimes have a lower-than-normal temperature. This could happen to children with suppressed immune system, children with a life-threatening bacterial infection in the blood (sepsis) and older children with severe neurological impairments.

Adults:

The doctor should be called in case:

 

  • A person has had a fever for more than three days
  • Their temperature is more than 39.4 C (103 F)

 

In case any of the signs and symptoms listed below accompanies a fever the doctor should also be called:

 

  • Severe headache
  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Unusual sensitivity to bright light
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Mental confusion
  • Severe throat swelling
  • Extreme listlessness or irritability
  • Unusual skin rash, especially if the rash worsens rapidly
  • Stiff neck and pain when bending the head forward
  • Pain when urinating or abdominal pain
  • Any other unexplained signs or symptoms
     

Causes:

According to circadian rhythm, a person's normal body temperature varies throughout the day. In the morning it is lower and in the late afternoon and evening higher. As a matter of fact, a normal temperature could range from 36.1 C to 37.2 C (97 F to 98.6 F). Despite the fact that most people consider 37 C (98.6) normal, however, a person's temperature could vary by a degree or more. Someone's temperature could be affected by other factors such as heavy exercise or menstrual cycle.

 

HOW DOES THE BODY TEMPERATURE WORK?

  • The body temperature is set by the hypothalamus, which is an area at the base of the brain that acts as a thermostat for a person's whole system.
  • Temperature is the balance of the heat produced by the body tissues, especially the muscles and liver, and the heat that the body loses.
  • In case someone's ill, their normal temperature could be set a few points higher as their body directs blood away from the skin in order to decrease heat loss.
  • When the body tries to elevate its temperature as a fever starts, the person will feel chilly and even shiver in order to generate heat until the blood around the hypothalamus reaches the new set point.
  • A person may sweat profusely in order to get rid of the excess heat when their temperature begins to return to normal.
  • However, the body’s ability to produce a fever may be lessened in case the person is very young, very old, or alcoholic.
  • Usually, a fever means that the body is responding to a viral or bacterial infection.

 

Some of the other possible causes of fever include:

 

  • Extreme sunburn
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Malignant tumor or some forms of kidney cancer, which is quite rare
  • Some medications, including antibiotics and drugs that are used to treat seizures or high blood pressure
  • Certain inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, which is the inflammation of the lining of the joints (synovium)
  • Some immunizations, including the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP) or pneumococcal vaccines in the case of infants and children.

 

Sometimes, the cause of a fever may not be identified. The diagnosis of fever may be fever of unknown origin in case someone has a temperature of 38.3 C (101 F) or higher for more than three weeks and the doctor isn’t able to find the cause after extensive evaluation.
 

Complications

Complications:

A small number of children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years could experience fever-induced seizures (febrile seizures) due to a rapid rise or fall in their temperature. The vast majority of febrile seizures cause no lasting effects, despite the fact that they may be alarming for parents.

 

Loss of consciousness and shaking of limbs on both sides of the body are some of the signs and symptoms of febrile seizures. In some rare cases, a child could become rigid and twitch only part of his/her body. Parents should lay their child on his/her side or stomach on the floor or ground in case a seizure occurs. They should also loosen tight clothing, remove any sharp objects that are near the child and hold him/her in order to prevent injury. However, they shouldn’t place anything in the child’s mouth or try to stop the seizure.
Even though most seizures stop on their own, however, if a seizure lasts longer than 10 minutes, parents should call their local emergency number.

 

In order to determine the cause of the fever, the child should be taken to the doctor as soon as possible after the seizure.
 

Treatments:

Depending on the cause of the fever, treatment will be determined. The patient will probably be prescribed antibiotics for bacterial infections, such as strep throat or pneumonia.

 

Viral infections can’t be treated with antibiotics, such as mononucleosis and stomach infection (gastroenteritis). Although usually the best treatment for most viruses is rest and plenty of fluids, however, there are a few antiviral drugs that are used to treat some specific viral infections.

Over-the-counter medications:

The patient may be recommended using some over-the-counter medications in order to lower a high fever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Adults could also use acetylsalicylic acid. However, because acetylsalicylic acid could trigger a rare but potentially fatal disorder known as Reye’s syndrome, it shouldn't be given to children.

 

WHAT IS THE DOWNSIDE OF LOWERING A FEVER?

It is not advisable to try to lower someone's temperature in case they have a low-grade fever, because doing so could mask the symptoms, make it harder to determine the cause and prolong the illness.

 

Aggressively treating a fever, some experts believe, interferes with the body’s immune responses. The viruses that cause colds and other respiratory infections thrive at normal body temperature, so the body may be helping eliminate a virus by producing a low-grade fever.
 

Prognosis:

Not available

Expert's opinion

Expert's Name:
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Expert's opinion:

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