The Science of Goosebumps and Music Chills
Why Do We Get Chills With a Fever?
It's one of the human body's great mysteries. Learn how you can shiver with chills in the midst of a burning fever.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
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We've all been there: burning up with fever, yet shivering with chills. It turns out that what feels like a bizarre internal thermostat malfunction is actually the body's way of fighting infection.
Viruses and bacteria multiply less well above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (F). "Part of our immune system's response against infection includes raising the body's temperature to diminish the ability of microbes to reproduce," says Amesh Adalja, MD, senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
A fever, or rise in body temperature, of even just a degree or two can stop a virus's ability to grow.
When the brain increases the body's temperature set point, the body strives to meet that higher temperature. You feel cold because technically you are colder than your body's new set point. In turn, the body works to generate heat to warm itself by contracting and relaxing muscles — hence the shivering, or chills.
What You Need to Know
The length of a fever can vary significantly depending on its cause. Possible sources abound, from colds and the flu to ear infections, sinus infections, bronchitis, mononucleosis, pneumonia, appendicitis, gastroenteritis, and meningitis.
Other reasons for fever include autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, as well as cancer, blood clots, and even certain drugs. In children, fever can flare after immunizations.
"In some cases with a mild viral illness, a fever can last for a day, or it can last for weeks to months with systemic infections," says Dr. Adalja. The first thing to do is play detective to determine the cause of your fever based on the signs and symptoms of your illness, he says.
When Is Treatment Needed?
The right treatment for body chills with fever depends on the cause, and that's where your doctor might need to step in. Call your doctor in any of the following cases:
- The fever is accompanied by serious symptoms, like shortness of breath, neck stiffness, headache, rash, swelling of a joint, abdominal pain, or extreme fatigue.
- The fever is high, or lasts longer than two or three days.
- You have any serious medical issues and develop a fever.
For infants (under 1 year old), call the pediatrician if their temperature is higher than 101 degrees F.
Call 911 if anything unusual or alarming accompanies the fever and chills, such as when someone with a fever experiences any of these symptoms:
- Seems confused or cannot be easily awakened
- Can't walk or move an arm or leg
- Has a seizure
- Has difficulty breathing or has a very bad headache or a stiff neck
Barring any of the above situations, getting through chills and fever calls for sensible care. Rest and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Video: Why Does Music Give Us Chills?
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