Have you ever experienced cold chills running through your body, making you shiver even if you are wearing warm clothing or wrapped in a blanket? Body chills are one of the body’s methods for trying to warm itself up, either because your internal body temperature has dropped significantly, or there is a threat the body is trying to fend off.
Cold chills can be a symptom of minor and treatable conditions, such as the common cold, or more serious infections, such as influenza or meningitis. Some people with inflammatory and autoimmune disorders experience chills.
Body chills often occur alongside a fever, but chills without fever can also arise after exposure to extremely cold temperatures. In many cases, chills on their own don’t signify a major health issue and can be treated at home without a visit to the doctor’s office.
When body chills are combined with other concerning symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor as this may be a sign of a serious condition.
What Are Body Chills?
Chills occur when your muscles contract and relax repeatedly in an attempt to increase your temperature, which may feel like intense, involuntary shivering. Body chills may also cause you to sweat or feel unreasonably cold, which is why they can also be referred to as cold chills.
It can be uncomfortable, but chills are generally not serious unless accompanied by more severe symptoms.
What Causes Body Chills?
There are two main reasons the body will try to raise its own temperature: if your internal temperature drops below normal, or if your body interprets a foreign threat (such as infection) that may be warded off by increasing your body temperature.
After being in a cold environment or being immersed in water for a long time, your body wants to warm itself up quickly, which is why you may experience chills.
You may also experience chills if you are fending off an infection like the common cold or the flu. Chills are one of your body’s natural ways of raising its own temperature to fend off the infection, as most infectious pathogens struggle to survive above a normal body temperature.
Body chills can be a symptom of:
Fever and chills can also be symptoms of chronic illnesses such as inflammatory conditions, autoimmune disorders, and some cancers.
Symptoms That Occur With Chills
Fever and chills often occur together, when the body is working to increase its internal temperature to fight an infection or inflammation like the flu, meningitis, or strep throat, among other conditions.
Body aches and chills also go hand in hand—the rapid muscle contractions that cause chills can make you feel achy or sore, as if you had been exercising. As your body fights an infection, this often leads to extreme fatigue.
Other symptoms that may occur with chills include:
How to Treat Body Chills
If you are experiencing fever and chills that don’t subside after 48 hours, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor for a physical examination. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may choose to run diagnostic tests for a viral or bacterial infection.
These tests may include:
- Blood test
- Chest x-ray
- Sputum culture from the lungs
If you have an infection like strep throat or pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
If your cold chills are caused by a chronic illness, treatment will generally follow the usual treatment protocol for your condition. You can also try at-home remedies to reduce your chills.
If you are experiencing chills without fever or other symptoms, or if you have a very mild fever (generally 100.4° F or less), you likely don’t need to visit your doctor and can treat the chills at home.
At-Home Remedies for Chills
At-home treatments for chills include getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids to stay well-hydrated, especially if you have cold-like symptoms. A fever in response to infection is not dangerous, however it can be uncomfortable. It may relieve your symptoms to wear lightweight clothing or lie down with just a light sheet for cover.
For immediate relief from mild fever, you may try taking a cool shower or a sponge bath with lukewarm water. Be careful not to let the temperature of the water get too cold, even if you’re feeling overheated, because cold water can trigger chills.
You may also try taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medication to help reduce the chills and/or lower your fever, such as:
Aspirin (do not give aspirin to children under 18 years old, unless specifically instructed by your pediatrician)
If you are also suffering from cold and flu symptoms, OTC medicines for congestion relief, sinus pain, cough, and running nose may also be effective.
When to See a Doctor
In general, body chills without fever don’t require a visit to the doctor and will likely subside on their own. At-home remedies may relieve some of your discomfort.
If you are suffering from uncomfortable body chills, call or make an appointment to visit your doctor if:
- Your fever spikes over 100.4° F (38° C)
- Your fever and chills last more than 48 hours without improvement
You should also visit your doctor as soon as possible if you experience other serious symptoms accompanying your cold chills (with or without fever), such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Severe coughing
- Abdominal pain
- Any uncommon urination (painful, frequent, or lack of urination)
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