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Alternative NamesRigors; Shivering
Definition Return to top
Chills refers to feeling cold after an exposure to a cold environment. The word can also refer to an episode of shivering, accompanied by paleness and feeling cold.
Considerations Return to top
"Goose bumps" are associated with a feeling of chilliness but are not necessarily associated with chills or fevers. Goose bumps raise the hairs on the body to form a layer of insulation.
Chills may occur at the beginning of an infection and are usually associated with a fever. Chills are caused by rapid muscle contraction and relaxation, and are the body's way of generating heat when it feels that it is cold. Chills often predict the coming of a fever, or an increase in the body's core temperature.
Chills may also represent a very significant and consistent finding in certain diseases such as malaria.
Chills are common in young children. Children tend, in general, to develop higher fevers than adults. Even minor illness may produce high fevers in young children.
Infants tend not to develop obvious chills, but any fever in an infant 6 months or younger should be reported to a health care provider. Fevers in infants 6 months to 1 year should also be reported unless the parent is absolutely certain of its cause.
Causes Return to top
Home Care Return to top
Fever (which can accompany chills) is the body's natural response to a variety of conditions, such as infection. If the fever is mild (102 degrees Fahrenheit or less) with no side effects, no professional treatment is required. Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.
Evaporation cools the skin and thereby reduces body temperature. Sponging with comfortably warm water (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) may help in reducing a fever. Cold water, however, is uncomfortable, and may increase the fever because it can trigger chills.
Medications such as acetaminophen are effective for fighting a fever and chills.
Do not bundle up in blankets if you have a high temperature. This will only cause the fever to rise.
HOME CARE FOR A CHILD
If the child's temperature is over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the child is uncomfortable, give pain-relieving tablets or liquid. Non-aspirin containing pain-relievers such as acetaminophen are preferred. Ibuprofen may also be used. Follow the recommended dosage on the package label.
Children who have symptoms of a viral infection should not be given aspirin because of the risk of Reye syndrome.
If the child's temperature is over 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit 1 to 2 hours after giving medication for fever, place the child in a tub of lukewarm water up to the navel. Rub a wet washcloth or towel over the child's body for 20 minutes or for as long as can be tolerated. Add warm water as needed to keep the water temperature constant and keep the child from shivering. Pat (don't rub) the child dry with a towel.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
What to Expect at Your Office Visit Return to top
The health care provider will take your medical history and perform a physical examination.
Medical history questions may include:
The physical examination may include emphasis on the skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, chest, and abdomen. Body temperature will likely be checked.
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:
References Return to top
Powell KR. Fever. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 174.
Powell KR. Fever without a focus. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa:Saunders Elsevier;2007:chap 175.Update Date: 2/22/2009 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.