Fever

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is a fever?

The definition of fever is an elevation in body temperature. Technically, any body temperature above the normal oral measurement of 98.6 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius) or the normal rectal temperature of 99 F (37.2 C) is considered elevated. However, these are averages, and one's normal body temperature may actually be 1 F (0.6 C) or more above or below the average of 98.6 F. Body temperature can also vary up to 1 F (0.6 C) throughout the day.

Fever is not considered medically significant until body temperature is above 100.4 F (38 C). Anything above normal but below 100.4 F (38 C) is considered a low-grade fever. Fever serves as one of the body's natural defenses against bacteria and viruses that cannot live at a higher temperatures. For that reason, low-grade fevers should normally go untreated, unless accompanied by troubling symptoms or signs.

Also, the body's defense mechanisms seem to work more efficiently at a higher temperature. Fever is just one part of an illness, many times no more important than the presence of other symptoms such as cough, sore throat, sinus congestion, fatigue, joint pains or aches, chills, nausea, etc.

Fevers of 104 F (40 C) or higher may be dangerous and demand immediate home treatment and prompt medical attention, as they can result in delirium and convulsions, particularly in infants, children, and the elderly.

Fever should not be confused with hyperthermia, which is a defect in your body's response to heat (thermoregulation), which can also raise the body temperature. This is usually caused by external sources such as being in a hot environment.

Fever should also not be confused with hot flashes or night sweats due to hormonal changes during perimenopause (the time period around menopause). Hot flashes and night sweats cause a sudden and intense feeling of heat, and may be accompanied by flushing (skin redness and tingly feeling) and sweating, but are not the same thing as a fever.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/4/2016

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