A fever (also known as a high temperature), is when our body temperature rises above 38°C (36.5°C to 37.2°C is considered normal). Although the temperature of the body fluctuates throughout the day, a sustained high temperature constitutes a fever and is often accompanied by sweating.

  • Often a symptom of a viral infection
  • Will usually last for a couple of days
  • Can make you feel hot or cold

If you would like to speak to a doctor online for advice about a fever, you can do so via our online video consultation service. Our clinicians can provide input and symptoms and treatment, and provide prescriptions and referrals to specialists where suitable. They are available from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

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Possible causes

What causes a fever?

Fevers are largely caused by a self-limiting condition - typically, viral infections. A high temperature stems from the immune system responding to the presence of bacteria or a virus. The heat is supposed to stop the bacteria or infection from spreading and surviving.

Infectious causes

Infections that can lead to a fever include:

  • Respiratory tract infections
  • The flu
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Tonsillitis
  • Ear infections

A fever may also be caused by infections contracted from abroad; if you experience a fever having recently travelled, you should seek medical attention. Examples include malaria, tuberculosis, and Hepatitis A or B. More serious infections that can lead to a fever include pneumonia, meningitis and AIDS.

Non-infectious causes

Inflammatory conditions such as phlebitis and thyroiditis can sometimes cause a fever. They can also be triggered by connective tissue disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus. A blood clot may also lead to a fever, such as deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism.

Other, less common causes of a fever include:

  • Metabolic disorders
  • Blood disorders
  • A side effect to a medication
  • An allergic reaction
  • Malignancy

Diagnosing the cause of a fever

The first step a doctor is likely to take upon learning that you have a fever is to measure your temperature. They will also look for indications of an underlying cause and signs of dehydration. 

Besides checking your temperature, they may ask if you have recently been diagnosed with another infection or disorder, or if you have undergone surgery. They may also look to determine if you have travelled anywhere recently, to help explore the possibility of an exotic fever. 

If you have started using a new form of medication or have changed the dosage, you should make your doctor aware of this.  

In order to take your temperature, a doctor will use an infrared ear thermometer. This is more reliable than an oral assessment or placing a hand on the forehead. Oral thermometers can be affected by breathing rate.  

Having undergone a simple assessment, a doctor may want to carry out further tests. This could involve taking a full blood count, to see whether there is an increase in the number of white blood cells; this can indicate an infection or inflammatory cause. A urinalysis may be necessary if a urinary tract infection is suspected, and a C-reactive protein test may also show if there’s any inflammation in the body. 

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Types of Treatment

How is a fever treated?

Treatment for a fever is determined by identifying what the underlying condition is. In the case of self-limiting conditions such as a viral infection, simple self-care advice is all that is required. 

In the event that it’s unclear as to what the cause is, or if it’s thought to be a self-limiting condition, there are a few basic principles that a doctor may advise for managing a fever:

  • Staying hydrated by drinking lots of fluids
  • Not wearing too many layers (or too few layers) to counteract the fever.
  • Keeping a room at a comfortable temperature
  • Taking paracetamol, which can help with fever symptoms.

There are some instances in which you may need to be admitted to hospital urgently for treatment of a fever. Examples of this are: if you are taking medication that is suppressing your immune system, if you are HIV positive or have recently finished cancer treatment, or if you possess an immune deficiency.

A fever is a very common symptom of an infection in the body, particularly viral infections. It is not usually an indication of a serious condition and will pass once the body has fought off the infection. There are however many possible causes of a fever, and you may want to speak to a doctor online to help rule out anything more serious. Our registered clinicians are available to consult with between 9.30am and 4.30pm, five days a week. 

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How long is it normal to have a fever for?

A fever will not typically last for more than 2 or 3 days. The length of time it lasts depends on the underlying cause. A fever that’s active alongside a cold tends to only last for a few hours, whereas a fever which is present alongside the flu may persist for longer.

Is fever serious?

A fever isn’t usually serious, and is not normally experienced for any longer than a couple of days. However, if you experience a fever and you temperature is over 39°C, or if you have symptoms such as a severe headache, seizures, a sudden unusual rash, or chest pain, you should contact a doctor urgently.

Can I get treatment for a fever?

It depends on what the underlying cause is. In most cases, a doctor will recommend practical measures that can be taken to alleviate the symptoms of a fever, such as not wearing excessive or insufficient layers, drinking lots of fluids to counteract the sweating and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen when necessary.

How can I prevent a fever?

It’s not usually possible to prevent a fever, as it is a natural immune response; however, there are measures you can take to stop it from becoming too uncomfortable.

It’s important to rest in a room that is at a comfortable temperature, whilst taking on lots of fluids along with paracetamol or ibuprofen to help cope with symptoms.

Can I speak to a doctor about a fever?

If you have a fever and are worried that it is not resolving itself, one of our GPhC-registered clinicians may be able to help. They can issue advice on symptoms and treatment, and provide referrals to specialists and prescriptions, where appropriate. You can arrange a consultation with them between 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Page last reviewed:  11/06/2020

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