Fevers and Chills

Woman in bed checks a thermometer after taking her temperature.
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Have you ever had a fever but also felt cold? Chills and fever often occur together and can be concerning to some people. "If my body temperature is up, why do I feel so cold?" "Why am I shaking and can't seem to stop?" I have heard these questions and others about fever and chills many times.

The answer to why we get chills when we have fevers is actually quite simple. If your body temperature is higher than normal, the air and environment around you will feel colder than it usually does.

When there is more of a difference between your body temperature and the temperature of your environment than usual, you will feel colder than you would otherwise.

Chills occur because your muscles rapidly contract and relax in an effort to produce body heat. It happens in response to both cold air temperatures and an increase in your internal body temperature.

What Can You Do?

Getting comfortable when you have a fever and chills can be difficult. Your first reaction to discomfort is probably to put on more clothes or blankets so you will feel warm. The problem with doing this is that bundling up in even more layers will also increase your body temperature further.

However, if you are actually shivering or shaking due to chills, this can also raise your internal body temperature.

Figuring out how to be comfortable and also bring your temperature down can be a bit of a balancing act.

  • Take Fever Reducing Medications - acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) can help reduce your fever and make you more comfortable. However, they can take an hour to work, so you may have to take other steps in the meantime.
  • Wear warm clothing without bundling up - using an extra blanket or two to stop yourself from shivering when you have a fever is fine, just don't overdo it. Use the extra layers to get comfortable so you no longer have chills and then take them off, wearing clothes that are appropriate for the weather. Don't bundle up a young child with a fever - keep her dressed lightly and comfortably.
  • Stay hydrated - drinking plenty of clear liquids (not alcohol) when you are sick with a fever is essential.

Don't Panic

Probably the most essential thing to remember when you or your child has a fever is not to panic. Fevers are not inherently dangerous. They are a natural defense against illness. It is your body's way of fighting off infections by making the environment in your body uninhabitable for germs.

For most people, there isn't a number on the thermometer that indicates danger or requires a trip to the emergency room. Exceptions to this include babies under 3 months old (any fever over 100.3 degrees needs immediate evaluation) and high body temperatures caused by exposure to hot environments.

Fever and chills often occur together but they aren't necessarily something to be worried about. If you are concerned that shaking or shivering is uncontrollable or if it does not stop once the fever is down, contact your health care provider or seek medical attention.


"Chills". MedlinePlus 22 Jan 13. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 8 Dec 14.

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