What is a fever? What is a headache?
There are many causes of fever and a headache.
A fever is an elevated body temperature due to any cause. Fevers occur as a result of the body's own defenses against disease. Although a fever technically is any body temperature above the normal of 98.6 F (37 C), medical professionals usually do not consider a person to have a significant fever until the temperature is above 100.4 F (38 C).
A headache is any type of pain felt in the head. Many causes of headache can be associated with fever.
This article is not all-inclusive and is an introduction to fever and headache problems. If you are not sure if your condition is mild, contact your medical caregiver. If you think you or a loved one has serious symptoms, go to an emergency department.
What are causes and risk factors for a fever with a headache?
There are a number of conditions that can cause both fever and headache. Examples of conditions that can cause fever along with a headache include the following:
What signs and symptoms may accompany a fever with a headache?
The signs and symptoms that accompany a fever with headache depend on the exact cause and are thus very variable. These can include the following:
Causes of Fever
- Fever is a common symptom of most infections such as colds, flu, and gastroenteritis (also referred to as stomach flu), and thus a risk factor for fever is exposure to infectious agents.
Typical infections that may cause a fever include those of the ear, throat, lung, bladder, and kidney. In children, immunizations (such as vaccine shots) or teething may cause short-term low-grade fever.
Autoimmune disorders (including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease), medication side effects, seizures, blood clots, hormone disorders, cancers, and illicit drug use are some non-infectious causes of fevers.
When should you see a doctor for a fever with a headache?
You should seek medical attention if any of these conditions exists:
- The temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or greater.
- Fever lasts more than seven days
- Fever symptoms get worse
- Confusion or excessive sleepiness
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache
- Rash with fever and headache
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Red, hot, or swollen area of skin
- Any unusual symptom that causes concern
What are medications and treatments for a fever with a headache?
Treatments for fever with headache depend on the cause.
- Bacterial or fungal infections require treatment with antibiotics or antifungal drugs. Antiviral drugs may treat influenza and other viral infections.
- Medical professionals may administer supportive medications, such as pain control drugs, decongestants, cough suppressants, and medications to control nausea and vomiting.
- In severe cases, hospitalization and treatments to support breathing and circulation may be required.
Is it possible to prevent fevers and headaches?
It is not possible to prevent all causes of fever and headache, although you can take measures to help avoid infectious diseases and some other causes of headache and fever.
- Always use good hand-washing hygiene.
- Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, toothbrushes, or towels with others.
- Avoid contact with ill people.
- Take appropriate precautions against mosquito and tick bites when outdoors.
- Stay hydrated in the sun or heat.
What is the prognosis for a fever with a headache?
The prognosis for fever with headache is highly variable. Some conditions that cause these symptoms have an excellent prognosis. For example, most people recover fully from colds and the flu without significant long-term complications. On the other hand, serious causes of fever and headache (such as encephalitis or meningitis) may be fatal especially if not properly treated.
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Medically Reviewed on 1/9/2020
Jameson, J. Larry, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.