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Chills

Definition

Chills refers to feeling cold after an exposure to a cold environment. The word can also refer to an episode of shivering along with paleness and feeling cold.

Alternative Names

Rigors; Shivering

Considerations

Chills (shivering) may occur at the beginning of an infection and are usually associated with a fever. Chills are caused by rapid muscle contraction and relaxation. They are the body's way of producing heat when it feels cold. Chills often predict the coming of a fever or an increase in the body's core temperature.

Chills are an important symptom with certain diseases such as malaria.

Chills are common in young children. Children tend to develop higher fevers than adults. Even minor illness can 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 certain of its cause.

“Goose bumps" are not the same as chills. Goose bumps occur due to cold air. They can also be caused by strong emotions such as shock or fear. With goose bumps, the hairs on the body stick up from the skin to form a layer of insulation. When you have chills, you may or may not have goose bumps.

Causes

Home Care

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°F 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°F) may help reduce a fever. Cold water, though, is uncomfortable and may increase the fever because it can trigger chills.

Medicines such as acetaminophen are effective for fighting a fever and chills.

Do not bundle up in blankets if you have a high temperature. Do not use fans or air conditioners either. These measures will only make the chills worse and even cause the fever to rise.

HOME CARE FOR A CHILD

If the child's temperature is causing the child to be uncomfortable, give pain-relieving tablets or liquid. Non-aspirin pain-relievers such as acetaminophen are preferred. Ibuprofen may also be used. Follow the recommended dosage on the package label.

Note: Do not give aspirin to treat fever in a child younger than 19 years old because of the risk of Reye syndrome.

Other things to help the child feel more comfortable include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

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.

Tests that may be ordered include:

Treatment depends on how long the chills and accompanying symptoms (especially fever) have lasted.

References

Leggett J. Approach to fever or suspected infection in the normal host. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 288.

Nield LS, Kamat D. Fever. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW III, et al., eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap169.

Sullivan JE, Farrar HC, Section on Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Committee on Drugs. Fever and antipyretic use in children. Pediatrics. 2011;127:580–587.


Review Date: 1/22/2013
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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