What causes chills? 64 possible conditions

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What Are Chills?

The term “chills” refers to a feeling of being cold that is accompanied by shivering or shaking. Chills can be accompanied by goose bumps or goose flesh—small bumps that raise the hair on your skin.

What Causes Chills?

Chills are produced when your muscles repeatedly expand and contract to generate heat. They can be constant and continue for as long as an hour, or they can occur periodically, with each episode lasting for several minutes.

Chills can occur after exposure to a cold environment. They also occur as a response to a bacterial or viral infection that causes a fever, and are commonly associated with the following conditions:

  • bacterial or viral gastroenteritis
  • infectious mononucleosis
  • influenza (flu)
  • colds
  • meningitis
  • pneumonia
  • strep throat
  • urinary tract infections
  • malaria

Chills are more common in young children than in adults. This may be because children are more prone to developing fevers than adults, and because their fevers tend to be higher than those that affect adults. Minor illness that do not cause a fever in adults can produce fevers in children.

Treating Chills at Home

The National Institutes of Health recommend the following guidelines for treating a fever with chills in adults and children (NIH):

Home Care for Adults

Treatment is usually based on whether your chills are accompanied by a fever, as well as on the severity of the fever. If your fever is mild (102°F or less) and you have no other serious symptoms, you do not need to see a doctor. You should rest and drink plenty of liquids.

Covering yourself with layers of blankets or clothing when you have a fever and chills may actually raise your body temperature. Sponging your body with lukewarm water (about 70°F) or taking a cool shower can help reduce a fever. Cold water, however may trigger an episode of chills.

Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil), can also help to lower a fever and fight chills. As with any medication, follow the dispensing directions carefully. Aspirin and ibuprofen will lower your fever and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will bring down a fever; but not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver if not taken as directed.

Call your doctor if your fever and chills do not improve after three days of home care, or if they are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • stiff neck
  • significant cough or shortness of breath
  • confusion, sluggishness, or irritability
  • abdominal pain or painful urination
  • frequent urination or lack of urination
  • forceful vomiting
  • unusual sensitivity to bright light

Home Care for Children

Treating a child with chills and fever depends on the child’s age, his or her temperature, and any accompanying symptoms. In general, if your child’s fever is between 102°F and 103.5°F and he or she is uncomfortable, you can give him or her acetaminophen in tablet or liquid form. Follow the dosing instructions on the package carefully.

If your child’s fever rises higher than 103.5°F, you can also bathe him or her in lukewarm water, adding warm water as necessary to prevent shivering.

Never bundle feverish children in heavy blankets or layers of clothing. Dress them in lightweight clothing and give them water or other liquids to keep them hydrated.

Never give aspirin to children under the age of 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious disorder that can affect children who were given aspirin while they had a viral infection.

Call a doctor in the case of any of the following:

  • a fever of 101°F or higher in a child younger than three months old
  • a fever that continues for more than 24 hours in a child between three months and one year old
  • a fever that does not fall below 103°F after one to two hours of treatment

Medical Treatment for Chills

Your doctor will ask you for details about your chills and fever, including:

  • Do the chills actually make you shake or do you just feel cold?
  • What was your highest body temperature that was also accompanied by chills?
  • Have you had chills just once or have you had repeated episodes of chills?
  • How long did each episode of chills last?
  • Did the chills begin after exposure to something to which you or your child is allergic? Did they begin suddenly?
  • What are your other symptoms?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination and may order diagnostic tests. He or she will look for signs that your fever is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • a blood test, including a blood culture to detect bacteria or fungi in the blood
  • a sputum culture of secretions from the lungs and bronchi (tubes in the lungs)
  • urinalysis: physical, chemical, and microscopic examination of your urine to detect and measure bacteria in the urine
  • a chest X-ray to detect pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other infections

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if he or she finds that you have a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or pneumonia.

What Are the Potential Complications of Chills and Fever?

Chills and fever are signs that something is wrong. If you treat your chills and fever but they persist, you should see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

If your fever goes untreated, you may experience severe dehydration and hallucinations. Children ages six months to five years may also have fever-induced seizures (febrile seizures). Luckily, these seizures do not typically cause long-term health problems.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Common Cold Overview

The common cold is a virus that involves symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose and a headache. Learn the causes, symptoms and treatments for the common cold now!

Read more »

2

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu, is caused by a number of different viruses. Its symptoms usually last for two to three days.

Read more »

3

Cold and Flu Overview

Overview Colds (common colds) and the flu (influenza) are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Colds typically are confined to th...

Read more »

4

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs. A severe and long-lasting cough, fever, and night sweats could indicate an active TB infection.

Read more »

5

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, or "mono," is a group of symptoms caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. One potential symptom is a pink rash that looks like the measles.

Read more »

6

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, nausea, and difficulty breathing. Blue skin, high fever, and bloody mucus are serious signs.

Read more »

7

Meningitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. It may cause headache and fever in teens and adults, irritability in babies, and trouble breathing in young children.

Read more »

8

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis occurs when the tonsils (the lymph tissue in your throat) become infected. Symptoms include sore throat, fever, and swollen tonsils. Fortunately, it's normally easily diagnosed and treated.

Read more »

9

Swine Flu

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, is a highly contagious virus with symptoms similar to common influenza types. It spreads quickly from person to person, and can linger on tables and surface areas.

Read more »

10

Spinal Cord Abscess

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Spinal cord abscess (SCA) is a rare condition capable of causing permanent damage to the spinal cord. Abscesses are caused when injured tissue becomes infected. The body's immune system sends white blood cells to hel...

Read more »

11

The Atypical Facts About Atypical Pneumonia

Atypical pneumonia refers to pneumonia (a long infection) that is not caused by the bacteria that cause the "typical pneumonia." Typical pneumonia tends to be more serious than atypical pneumonia. This type of pneumoni...

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12

The Many Sides of Bacterial Gastroenteritis

If you have bacterial gastroenteritis, bacteria have caused an infection in your gut. This usually results in your stomach and intestines becoming inflamed, and you'll probably experience unpleasant symptoms such a...

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13

Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. This common condition is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria . Strep throat can affect children and adults of all ages...

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14

Chronic Bronchitis

Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. People often develo...

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15

Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' disease is a serious type of lung infection, or pneumonia. It is caused by bacteria called Legionella. The bacteria and the disease were named following an outbreak of the infection at a Philadelphi...

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16

Peritonitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

You have a thin layer of tissue covering the inside of your abdomen and most of its organs. This is called the peritoneum . Inflammation of the peritoneum is called peritonitis. The inflammation is caused by a fungal o...

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17

Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Every year, millions of people eat food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. The result can be food poisoning, an uncomfortable experience characterized by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. One in si...

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18

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones, or renal calculi, are solid masses made of crystals. Kidney stones originate in your kidneys, but can be found at any point in your urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder...

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19

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula (bulging sacs that usually appear in the lining of the large intestine) get infected or inflamed. Although diverticula are most common in the large intestine (colon), they ca...

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20

Infective Endocarditis

Infective endocarditis is an infection in the heart valves or endocardium. The endocardium is the lining of the heart. This condition is usually caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and infecting the heart...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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