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Fever

Fever

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Published by: Nader Smadi on Feb 07, 2009
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02/01/2013

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Fever
Definition

A fever isn't an illness itself, but it's usually a sign that something out of the ordinary is going on in your body. Fevers aren't necessarily bad. In fact, fevers seem to play a key role in helping your body fight off a number of infections.

If you're an adult, a fever may be uncomfortable, but it usually isn't dangerous unless
it measures 103 F or higher. For very young children and infants, however, even
slightly elevated temperatures may indicate a serious infection.

Because a fever can occur with many different conditions, other signs and symptoms
can often help identify the cause.

Most fevers go away in a relatively short time \u2014 usually within a few days. Not all
fevers need treatment with medications. And it's possible for fever medications to
have side effects, especially for the very young.

Symptoms

A fever occurs when your temperature rises above its normal range. What's normal
for you may be a little higher or lower than the average temperature of 98.6 F. But a
rectal temperature higher than 100.4 F is always considered a fever. A rectal
temperature reading is generally 1 degree Fahrenheit higher than an oral reading.

Depending on what's causing your fever, additional fever symptoms may include:
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Sweating
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Shivering
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Headache
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Muscle aches
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Lack of appetite
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Dehydration
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General weakness
Very high fevers, between 103 and 106 F, may cause:
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Hallucinations
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Confusion
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Irritability
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Convulsions
Fever-induced seizures
About 4 percent of children younger than age 5 experience fever-induced seizures
(febrile seizures). The signs of febrile seizures, which occur when a child's
temperature rises or falls rapidly, include a brief loss of consciousness and
convulsions.

Although these seizures can be extremely alarming, most children don't experience any lasting effects. Febrile seizures are often triggered by a fever from a common childhood illness such as roseola, a viral infection that causes a high fever, swollen glands and a rash.

Causes

Even when you're well, your body temperature varies throughout the day \u2014 it's lower
in the morning and higher in the late afternoon and evening. In fact, your normal
temperature can range from about 97 to 99 F. Although most people consider 98.6 F a
healthy body temperature, yours may vary by a degree or more.

Your body temperature is set by your hypothalamus, an area at the base of your brain
that acts as a thermostat for your whole system. When something's wrong, your
normal temperature is simply set a few points higher. The new set-point, for example,
may be 102 F instead of 97 or 98 F.

What happens with a fever

When a fever starts and your body tries to elevate its temperature, you feel chilly and
may shiver to generate heat. At this point, you probably wrap yourself in your thickest
blanket and turn up the heating pad. But eventually, as your body reaches its new set-
point, you likely feel hot. And when your temperature finally begins to return to
normal, you may sweat profusely, which is your body's way of dissipating the excess
heat.

A fever usually means your body is responding to a viral or bacterial infection.
Sometimes heat exhaustion, extreme sunburn or certain inflammatory conditions such
as temporal arteritis \u2014 inflammation of an artery in your head \u2014 may trigger fever as
well. In rare instances, a malignant tumor or some forms of kidney cancer may cause
a fever.

Fever can be a side effect of some medications such as antibiotics and drugs used to
treat high blood pressure or seizures. Some infants and children develop fevers after
receiving routine immunizations, such as the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular
pertussis (DTaP) or pneumococcal vaccines.

Sometimes it's not possible to identify the cause of a fever. If you have a temperature
higher than 100.9 F for more than three weeks and your doctor isn't able to find the
cause after extensive evaluation, the diagnosis may be fever of unknown origin. In
most cases, though, the reason for your fever can be found and treated.

When to seek medical advice

Fevers by themselves may not be a cause for alarm \u2014 or a reason to call a doctor. Yet
there are some circumstances when you should seek medical advice for your baby,
your child or yourself.

For infants
An unexplained fever is greater cause for concern in infants and in children than in
adults. Call your baby's doctor if your baby:
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Is younger than 3 months of age and has a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or
higher. Even if your baby doesn't have other signs or symptoms, call your
doctor just to be safe.
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Is older than 3 months of age and has a temperature of 102 F or higher.
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Has a fever and unexplained irritability, such as marked crying when you
change your baby's diapers or when he or she is moved.
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Has a fever and seems lethargic and unresponsive. In infants and children

younger than age 2, these may be signs of meningitis \u2014 an infection and
inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal
cord. If you're worried that your baby might have meningitis, see your doctor
right away. Don't wait until morning to see your usual physician \u2014 meningitis
is an emergency.

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Is a newborn and has a lower than normal temperature \u2014 less than 97 F.
Very young babies may not regulate their body temperature well when they
are ill and may become cold rather than hot.
For children

Children often tolerate fevers quite well, although high temperatures may cause
parents a great deal of concern. Still, it's best to be guided more by how your child
acts than by any particular temperature measurement. There's probably no cause for
alarm if your child has a fever but is responsive \u2014 making eye contact with you and
responding to your facial expressions and to your voice, is drinking plenty of fluids
and wants to play.

Call your pediatrician if your child:
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Is listless or irritable, vomits repeatedly, has a severe headache or
stomachache, or has any other symptoms causing significant discomfort.
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Has a fever after being left in a very hot car. Seek medical care immediately.
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If fever persists longer than one day in a child younger than age 2 or longer
than three days in a child age 2 or older.

Ask your doctor for guidance if you have special circumstances, such as a child with
immune system problems or with a pre-existing illness. Your doctor also may
recommend different precautions if your child has just started taking a new
prescription medicine.

Don't treat fevers below 102 F with any medications unless advised by your doctor.

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

For adults
Call your doctor about a fever if:

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