When to Call the Doctor for Fever, Nausea, Diarrhea, Colds, and Coughs

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The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease. - Voltaire

For many illnesses time is the ally, and watchful waiting is the key to diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. The following are common conditions that often resolve on their own without medical intervention.

When to call the doctor for fever

Fever is a routine symptom in infants and children. It is a normal immune response to an infection to generate an elevated body temperature and make the body inhospitable. That doesn't mean that the fever should be ignored, but if the child is otherwise doing well, treating the fever with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and many others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and many others) may be all that is needed.

Fever in an adult is a different situation, because the patient is old enough to identify associated complaints and symptoms, and can provide a past medical history. Fever is a systemic response to inflammation. Patients with compromised immune systems and a fever are a completely different scenario. Those with immune system conditions or diseases, or who have their immune system compromised, do not function as well as those who are not immunocompromised, and their body may not be able to fight off infection adequately, for example:

  • people receiving chemotherapy for cancer,
  • people who take drugs to treat chronic inflammation such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus,
  • people who have had an organ or bone marrow transplant and are on immunosuppressive drugs to prevent their body from rejecting the transplant
  • people with HIV/AIDS may be so immunocompromised that their body may not be able to respond appropriately to an infection, and
  • older people may be very ill, but do not have a high fever (lower than 100 F or 37 C).

All these patients in the above scenario need to be seen urgently. Otherwise, fever plus other symptoms may provide enough information in regard as to who should be seen by a healthcare professional, and who may stay home and self-treat.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/1/2016

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