What causes chills? 77 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

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 »

2

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 »

3

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 »

4

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.

Read more »

5

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.

Read more »

6

Malaria

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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7

Sepsis

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.

Read more »

8

Peritonsillar Abscess

Peritonsillar abscess is a common bacterial infection that usually results from untreated strep throat or tonsillitis. Swollen glands in the throat and jaw, as well as a sore throat, can be signs of this condition.

Read more »

9

Leukemia

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

Read more »

10

AIDS

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

Read more »

11

Septicemia

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

Septicemia is also known as bacteremia or blood poisoning. Septicemia occurs when a bacterial infection enters the bloodstream. Untreated septicemia can quickly progress to sepsis, which is a serious complication of a...

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12

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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13

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. The infection may be caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Pneumonia causes inflammation in your lung's air sacs, also referred to as alveoli. The alveoli fill with flui...

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14

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially fatal contagious disease that can affect almost any part of the body but is mainly an infection of the lungs.

Read more »

15

Viral Gastroenteritis

Viral gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by one of any number of viruses. Also known as the stomach flu, viral gastroenteritis can affect anyone throughout the world. This highl...

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16

Swine Flu

Swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus, made headlines in 2009 when it was declared a pandemic (Dandagi & Byahatti, 2011). Pandemics are contagious diseases affecting people throughout the world or on multipl...

Read more »

17

Meningitis

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

Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges. This is the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis may occur when fluid surrounding the meninges becomes infected. The most common causes of meningiti...

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18

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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19

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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20

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, often called "mono," is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It typically occurs in teenagers, but you can get it at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, which is why some peopl...

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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