Down with a fever? You’ve probably experienced a temporary increase in body temperature accompanied by a sensation of chills and exhaustion for a few times in a year. There is a general uncomfortable feeling where our bodies may feel flushed and sweaty. Although generally harmless, it usually shouldn’t be concerning unless it reaches 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. Not all fevers need treatment, but how does one know for sure when it is necessary to call the doctor?
What Is Fever?
This happens when your body temperature rises above its normal range (37 C or 98.6 F). It often happens because it is the body’s natural way of fighting infections. The body’s thermostat regulator, called the hypothalamus which is located in the frontal part of the brain, elevates the body temperature. This causes a chemical reaction where the white blood cells produce antibodies to kill bacteria and viruses.
You may have additional signs and symptoms that include sweating, shivering, headache, body aches, loss of appetite, dehydration, and general weakness.
A high temperature of 103 F (39.4 C) is dangerous as it causes hallucinations, confusion, convulsions, and dehydration.
Quickcare or ER?
You should consider seeing the doctor if your experience these conditions:
- A temperature of 103 F (39.4 C) or higher.
- lasting more than seven days.
- Symptoms getting worse.
- Shortness of breath
- A Stiff neck
- Purple(Petechial) Rash
- Severe Headache
- Sore Throat
- Chest Pain
- Repeated Vomiting/Diarrhea
- Abdominal Pain
- Bloody Stool
Pain With Urination
Certain co-existing medical symptoms may be life-threatening. A person with a chronic medical problem (heart disease, lupus, sickle cell disease, etc.) or a weakened immune system (cancer of AIDS) should also see the doctor should they have a persistent elevated temperature.
What Will the Doctor Ask?
When taking your medical history, the doctor will ask about its duration or pattern since this can give important clues to narrow down the differential diagnosis.
An acute fever, which means having an onset of four days or less, is usually the result of an infection. Noninfectious cases are typically chronic.
Although the pattern of an illness may have questionable clinical significance, the doctor will still want to know about it. There are five main types of pattern:
- Intermittent: Temperature falls to normal every day. An abnormal pattern in temperature change happens in a repetitive pattern. It may be caused by a pyogenic infection, lymphoma, or military tuberculosis.
- Remittent: Temperature does not return to normal. There is a daily fluctuation of more than 2 C. A remittent pattern is not characteristic for any particular diseases.
- Continuous or sustained: The temperature does not fluctuate and remain continuously high with little variation in the temperature in 24 hours. Diagnosis: typhoid, typhus, drug-induced or malignant hyperthermia, etc.
- Hectic: wide swings in temperature where the temperature spikes are separated by days or weeks of normal temperature. It is often associated with chills and sweats. This pattern may be suggestive of an abscess or pyogenic infections. Other possible causes are drug related, lymphomas, tuberculosis, and hypernephromas.
- Relapsing : Temperature returns to normal for days before rising again. In malaria, there may be a tertian( 3 day pattern) or a quatrain pattern (4 day). It is also seen in rat-bite fever, Hodgkin’s disease, neoplasms, or Borrelia recurrentis infections.
There may be cases where a doctor is unable to find a right diagnosis. A fever with a temperature higher than 100.9 F (38.3 C) that lasts for at least three weeks with no known cause is called a fever of unknown origin.
Based on your medical history and any additional signs and symptoms, a doctor will perform a detailed physical examination and order lab tests to help determine the diagnosis..
There may be very distinct signs and symptoms that are characteristic of a specific disease:
Scarlet fever: Red rashes that look like sunburns, a ‘strawberry’ tongue, red lines and flushes around the body, difficulties swallowing, sore throat with white/yellow patches. If left untreated, it may lead to a rheumatic fever.
Dengue fever: headaches, pain behind the eyes, bone or joint pain, rashes, in severe cases bleeding from nose and mouth, severe abdominal pain
Yellow fever: Recent travels to areas with yellow fever, jaundice, sensitivity to light, muscle pain on backs and legs, abdominal pain and vomiting.
Malignant Hyperthermia is a unique severe fever caused by an adverse reaction to anti-psychotic medications.
What Is the Treatment for Fever?
Depending on the severity of symptoms, the disease that is causing it, and the patient’s overall health status, a doctor will determine if a person should be admitted to the hospital ward or not.
Generally, a doctor may prescribe specific medications to help resolve the underlying disease or medical condition. They may also give medications to relieve any coexisting symptoms, for example decongestants or IV fluids.
A viral infection usually resolves itself without needing an antibiotic. A bacterial or fungal infection may require antibiotics or anti-fungal medication.
In cases where fever is induced by anti-psychotics, treatment may include benzodiazepines and dantrolene.
A serious, life-threatening medical condition may require hospitalization for further treatment.
Fevers can be very uncomfortable, so here are a few steps you can take in the comfort of your home:
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) based medication. Refer to the package for the appropriate dosage based on your body weight. Avoid taking these types of medication too regularly as it can cause liver or kidney damage from long term use. Consult a doctor if necessary.
- Dress in lightweight clothing and using a light blanket. Do not overdress because this can cause overheating of the body. Too many times feverish children present with layers of blankets.
- Rest in a well-ventilated room with a comfortable temperature, avoiding exposure to too hot or cold weather.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, taking oral re-hydration salts if necessary.
- Get plenty of rest and adequate sleep.
How Long Will You Have Fever?
Again depending on the reason underlying, it may last as short as two or three days to over 3 weeks. There is no fixed time for how long a fever should last.
Everyone get fevers from time to time. In most cases, it resolves itself in a matter of days. However, if you’re ever concerned about what it might mean or what to do, always consult your doctor for advice. It is of utmost importance to discuss your medical concerns if a fever persists.