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What causes chills? 77 possible conditions

What Are Chills?

The term “chills” refers to a feeling of being cold without an apparent cause. You get this feeling when your muscles repeatedly expand and contract. Chills can occur with a fever and cause shivering or shaking.

Your body chills can be constant. Each episode can last for as long as an hour. Your chills can also occur periodically and last for several minutes.

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

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

Treating Chills at Home

If you or your child has a fever with chills, there are some things you can do at home for comfort and relief. Keep reading to learn how to treat a fever with chills and when you should call a doctor.

Home Care for Adults

Treatment is usually based on whether your chills are accompanied by a fever and the severity of the fever. If your fever is mild (101.4ºF or less) and you have no other serious symptoms, you don’t have to see a doctor. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids.

Cover yourself with a light sheet and avoid heavy blankets or clothing, which can raise your body temperature. Sponging your body with lukewarm water or taking a cool shower may 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 lower a fever and fight chills. As with any medication, carefully follow the instructions and take them as directed. Aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil) will lower your fever and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will bring down a fever, but it will not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver if it isn’t taken as directed.

Call your doctor if your fever and chills don’t improve after 48 hours of home care or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • stiff neck
  • wheezing
  • severe coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • confusion
  • sluggishness
  • irritability
  • abdominal pain
  • 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, temperature, and any accompanying symptoms. In general, if your child’s fever is between 100ºF and 102ºF and they are uncomfortable, you can give them acetaminophen in tablet or liquid form. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions on the package.

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 develop in children who were given aspirin while fighting a viral infection.

According to the Mayo Clinic, call a doctor in the case of any of the following:

  • a fever in a child younger than 3 months old
  • a fever in a child age 3 to 6 months, and the child is lethargic or irritable
  • a fever in a child age 6 to 24 months that lasts longer than one day
  • a fever in a child age 24 months to 17 years that lasts longer than three days and doesn’t respond to treatment

Medical Treatment for Chills

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

  • Do the chills make you shake, or do you only feel cold?
  • What was your highest body temperature that was 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 an allergen, or did they begin suddenly?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination and possibly run diagnostic tests to see if a bacterial or viral infection causes your fever. 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 (a 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 you’re diagnosed with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or pneumonia.

What Is the Outlook for Chills?

Chills and fever are signs that something is wrong. If chills and fever persist after treatment, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

If a fever goes untreated, you may experience severe dehydration and hallucinations. Children ages 6 months to 5 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.


Cold and Flu Overview

Common colds and influenza are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Shared symptoms include headache, cough, sore throat, and more.

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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!

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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.

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Strep Throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. It's especially common in children. Look out for sudden fever, a red throat with white patches, headache, and chills.

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Bladder Infection

A bladder infection is a bacterial infection. It also may be called a urinary tract infection (UTI), which refers to infection anywhere in the urinary tract, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters, or urethra.

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Malaria is a life-threatening disease. It is typically transmitted through the bite of a mosquito infected with Anopheles. Nausea, chills, fever, and diarrhea are common symptoms.

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

One life-threatening complication of infection is sepsis, which often occurs in people who are elderly or have weak immune systems. Patches of discolored skin is a symptom of severe sepsis.

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Peritonsillar Abscess

A peritonsillar abscess is usually a complication of tonsillitis or another bacterial infection. Get it treated quickly to avoid potentially serious problems.

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Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. Excessive sweating at night, fatigue, weight loss, bone pain, and easy bleeding or bruising are signs of this disease.

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There are many symptoms of the autoimmune disease HIV/AIDS, including persistent skin rashes, night sweats, and mouth sores.

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

Septicemia is bacterial infection spread through the entire vascular system of the body. If untreated it can result in sepsis, a life-threatening inflammation.

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Food Poisoning

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

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe.

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. General symptoms include chest pain, fever, cough, and difficulty breathing.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Atypical Facts About Atypical Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation of the lungs. Atypical pneumonia is a kind that isn't caused by the bacteria that causes typical pneumonia.

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Chronic Bronchitis

People often develop acute bronchitis after a viral chest infection. Blue-colored lips ankle or foot swelling can result.

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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.

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