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Alternative Names Return to topElevated temperature; Hyperthermia; Pyrexia
Definition Return to top
Normal body temperature varies by person, age, activity, and time of day. The average normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C).
Considerations Return to top
Normal body temperature varies.
Body temperature varies less in adults. However, a woman's menstrual cycle can elevate her temperature by 1 degree or more.
Your body temperature is usually highest in the evening. It can be raised by physical activity, strong emotion, eating, heavy clothing, medications, high room temperature, and high humidity. This is especially true in children.
A rectal temperature up to 100.4°F (38°C) may be entirely normal. A rectal temperature of 100.5°F or above should always be considered a fever. Lower temperatures might also be a fever, depending on the person.
Fever is not an illness. Far from being an enemy, it is an important part of the body's defense against infection. Many infants and children develop high fevers with minor viral illnesses. While a fever signals to us that a battle might be going on in the body, the fever is fighting for the person, not against.
Most bacteria and viruses that cause infections in people thrive best at 98.6°F. Raising the temperature a few degrees can give your body the winning edge. In addition, a fever activates the body's immune system to make more white blood cells, antibodies, and other infection-fighting agents.
Many parents fear that fevers will cause brain damage. Brain damage from a fever generally will not occur unless the fever is over 107.6°F (42°C). Many parents also fear that untreated fevers will keep going higher and higher. Untreated fevers caused by infection will seldom go over 105°F unless the child is overdressed or trapped in a hot place.
Some parents fear that fevers will cause seizures. For the great majority of children, this is not the case. However, febrile seizures do occur in some children. Once a child is already known to have a high fever, a febrile seizure is unlikely with the current illness. In any event, simple febrile seizures are over in moments with no lasting consequences.
Although infections are the most common causes of higher than normal body temperature, fevers have a long list of other causes, including toxins, cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
Heatstroke is a particularly dangerous type of high temperature, because the body is not able to stop the temperature from continuing to rise. It can happen when a child is left in a hot car or when you exercise too strenuously without enough to drink.
Unexplained fevers that continue for days or weeks are called fevers of undetermined origin (FUO).
Causes Return to top
Home Care Return to top
If the fever is mild and no other problems are present, no medical treatment is required. Drink fluids and rest. If a child is playful and comfortable, drinking plenty of fluids, and able to sleep, fever treatment is not likely to help.
Take steps to lower a fever if you or your child is uncomfortable, vomiting, dehydrated, or having difficulty sleeping. The goal is to lower, not eliminate, the fever.
When trying to reduce a fever:
Here are some guidelines for taking medicine:
If someone has heat exhaustion or heat stroke, remove the person from the warm area. Sponge the person with tepid water. Place ice packs in the armpits, behind the neck, and in the groin. Give fluids if the person is alert. Seek medical attention. If heat illness is causing the fever, medicines may not lower the body temperature and may even be harmful.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call a doctor right away if:
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
Your doctor will perform a physical examination, which may include a detailed examination of the skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, chest, and abdomen to look for the cause of the fever. Your doctor may ask questions such as:
Treatment depends on the duration and cause of the fever, and on other accompanying symptoms.
The following diagnostic tests may be performed:
References Return to top
American College of Emergency Physicians Clinical Policies Subcommittee on Pediatric Fever. Clinical policy for children younger than three years presenting to the emergency department with fever. Ann Emerg Med. 2003;42(4):530-545.
Roth J, Rummel C, Barth SW, et al. Molecular aspects of fever and hyperthermia. Neurol Clin. 2006;24(3):421-439.
Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine, 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.
Behrman RE, Kliegman RM, Jenson HB, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 17th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2004:839-841.
This article uses information by permission from Alan Greene, M.D., © Greene Ink, Inc.Update Date: 2/27/2008 Updated by: Rachel A. Lewis, MD, FAAP, Columbia Pediatric Faculty Practice, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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|Page last updated: 04 May 2009|