What causes fever? 221 possible conditions

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Overview

Fever is also known as hyperthermia, pyrexia, or simply elevated temperature. It describes a body temperature that is higher than normal. Fever can affect children and adults alike. A short-term increase in body temperature can help the body fight off illness. However, a severe fever can be a medical emergency.

Recognizing a fever can facilitate treatment and proper monitoring of the symptom. According to the Mayo Clinic, normal body temperature is typically 37 degrees C, or 98.6 degrees F. What is considered a normal body temperature in each person varies slightly (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a child has a fever when a temperature taken orally is higher than 99.5 degrees F, or 37.5 degrees C. An adult likely has a fever when body temperature exceeds 99 to 99.5 degrees F, or 37.2 to 37.5 degrees C. Normal body temperature can vary slightly depending on the time of day (NIH, 2010).

What Usually Causes Fevers?

Some reasons for a fever are:

  • infections, including pneumonia, colds, flu, ear infections, and bronchitis
  • recent immunization (children)
  • teething in children
  • certain inflammatory diseases or autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease
  • cancer
  • blood clots
  • certain medicines

How to Treat a Fever at Home

Home care for a fever depends on how severe it is. A mild fever with no other symptoms does not typically require medical treatment. Drinking fluids and making an effort to rest are usually enough.

Take measures at home to address elevated body temperature. This is especially true if fever is accompanied by general discomfort, dehydration, difficulty sleeping, or vomiting. Home care measures include:

  • Make sure the room temperature where the person is resting is comfortable.
  • Take a regular bath or a sponge bath using lukewarm water.
  • Take acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen (or give these medications to your child in appropriate doses).
  • Take aspirin (which is for adults only, unless a doctor has given you different advice).
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

When to See a Doctor About a Fever

A mild fever can typically be treated at home. However, according to the NIH, there are some instances when you or your child should see a doctor as soon as possible. These instances include when (NIH, 2010):

  • a child’s temperature is at least 100.4 degrees F, or 38 degrees C when taken rectally (under 3 months of age)
  • a child’s body temperature is higher than 102.2 degrees F, or 39 degrees C (between 3 months and 1 year of age)
  • an adult’s body temperature is higher than 103 degrees F, or 39.4 degrees C
  • body temperature is higher than 105 degrees F, or 40.5 degrees C, and at-home treatment do not bring it down and/or it’s causing discomfort (older children and adults)
  • a child has other symptoms of illness, such as a cough or a sore throat
  • a child or adult has a serious medical illness and/or a compromised immune system
  • the fever is not going away (one to two days for children under 2, and two to three days for older children and adults)
  • a child recently had one or more immunizations
  • the fever comes and goes for at least a week
  • the person experiencing a fever has recently been in a developing country
  • the person has new rashes or bruises
  • the person is having pain during urination

Your physician will probably perform a physical examination and medical tests. This will help him or her determine the cause of the fever and an effective course of treatment.

When Is Fever a Medical Emergency?

Go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 if you or your child is experiencing any of the following:

  • inconsolable crying (children)
  • confusion
  • inability to walk
  • trouble breathing
  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • seizure

How Can Fever Be Prevented?

Limiting exposure to infectious agents is one of the best ways to prevent a fever. Infectious agents often cause body temperature to rise. Wash your hands regularly and keep hands away from the nose, mouth, and eye area.

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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!

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2

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...

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3

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 »

4

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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5

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 »

6

Fever of Unknown Origin

Fever of unknown origin (FUO) refers to the elevation in body temperature for a specified time, for which a cause is not found after basic medical evaluation.

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7

Acute HIV Infection

Acute HIV infection is the primary stage of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus. There are several telltale symptoms, one of which is a rash.

Read more »

8

RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) Infection

Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is a common virus that causes infections of the lungs and airways. Common symptoms include fever, wheezing, and bluish skin from oxygen deprivation.

Read more »

9

Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is a disease that affects much of the tropical region and is caused by one of four dengue viruses. A skin rash between two and five days after the initial fever is a common symptom.

Read more »

10

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. Serious reactions can be life threatening and require medical treatment.

Read more »

11

Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a lymphatic system cancer. Tumors develop from lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. NHL is more common than Hodgkin's lymphoma. Many types of cancers can spread to the lymph nodes...

Read more »

12

Lung Cancer Overview

Learn the types of lung cancer, and read information about lung cancer symptoms, causes and treatments. Continue reading!

Read more »

13

Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, is a common condition that affects 31 million people in the United States each year. The infection occurs when your sinuses and nasal passages become inflamed. The sinuses are small ai...

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14

Septic Shock

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

Septic shock is what happens as a complication of an infection where toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response. It often occurs in people who are elderly or have a weakened immune system. It is thought tha...

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15

Bone Infection (Osteomyelitis)

A bone infection, also called osteomyelitis, can result when bacteria or fungi invade a bone. In children, bone infections most commonly occur in the long bones of the arms and legs, but in adults they usually appear i...

Read more »

16

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

Read more »

17

Caffeine Overdose

Caffeine overdose may occur when you ingest more than the recommended amount of caffeine, which is usually 200 to 300 mg per day. However, a safe amount of caffeine is different for everyone, as it depends on weight...

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18

Heat Emergencies

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

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious. If left untreated, the firs...

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19

Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection, also called otitis, occurs when the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed as a result of a bacteria or virus. The condition is most common in children. According to the Lucile Packar...

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20

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...

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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