Learn the causes of the chills, as well as ways to treat them

Why Do I Have the Chills?

Feeling a little bit chilly?

You may experience an icy, tingling sensation throughout your body because of cold temperatures or because your body is preparing to fight off an infection.

In fact, as your body mounts a response to infection, your muscles contract and relax to create heat. Your body may shiver and shake, and your face may turn pale. It’s your immune system’s way of telling you that you will need to take it easy for a few days, and that a fever and other symptoms are coming.

What are the Chills?

It’s natural for your body’s internal temperature to fluctuate; in fact, chills are your body’s natural response to raising your internal temperature. Chills are essentially shivers or shakes to get the body moving and warmed. Your immune system may be giving you chills to kill off bacteria that might be infecting you or to keep your body from freezing.

Causes of the Chills

If you are feeling that cold, shivery feeling, accompanied with general weakness or tiredness, you can bet that you are coming down with some kind of viral or bacterial infection.

A cold, the flu, a respiratory infection — anything that can cause a fever will likely also cause the chills. You also may experience body aches, a runny nose, congestion, nausea and vomiting, and any number of symptoms depending on what is causing your sickness. Here are some other conditions that could lead to chills:

  • Hangover.
  • Menopausal night sweats or hot flashes.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Sepsis.
  • Drug withdrawal.
  • Bacterial infections (pneumonia, UTIs, listeria).
  • Low blood sugar.

Chills with a fever

Because fever and chills go hand in hand, you should know that though you are feeling cold, your core temperature may be quite high. The average core temperature hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Your body is able to raise its core temperature, which can help kill the bacteria or virus that has invaded. Adults actually can handle fevers up to 104 degrees for a short period of time, and children may also have fevers that high.

Keep in mind, children are more likely to quickly fluctuate in body temperature, so you should carefully monitor them when they’re ill.

“Why do I have the chills but not a fever?” 

Chills and a fever often go hand-in-hand, but it’s possible to have one condition without the other. Chills are simply your body’s attempt to burn energy and boost your body temperature. So, chills actually assist in the process of your body building up a fever.

What Should I Do to Treat the Chills?

  • If you feel the chills coming on, resist the urge to bundle up until you know your temperature. Keep clothing and blankets light to prevent overheating.
  • Also, if you feel the “burning up” of fever, don’t cool yourself excessively, as it may cause your body to raise your fever to compensate, potentially causing more damage. If you are uncomfortable from your fever, consider an over-the-counter fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Drink warm, soothing liquids like tea or hot water with lemon.
  • Rest is best if you are sick with fever and chills, and you should drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost by your increased body temperature. To keep from becoming dehydrated, Kevin M. Wong, MD, Westmoreland Family Medicine – UPMC says, “Make sure your urine stays clear to light yellow.” If you see it becoming darker, you may want to increase your fluid intake.
  • When caring for a child with fever or chills, Dr. Wong says, “Ibuprofen is OK, but never aspirin for children.” Giving children medicine that contains aspirin can result in a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.

When to Call the Doctor

For most people, the chills are a minor annoyance that only last a few days. However, if you or your child experience the following, you should immediately contact your health care provider:

  • If you or your child exhibit signs of dehydration
  • If there is a change in level of consciousness, i.e. a person is responding inappropriately, seems confused, or becomes unresponsive.
  • The symptoms worsen or lasting more than 2 to 3 days.
  • You develop other troubling symptoms, such as shortness of breath, stiff neck, severe pain, etc.
  • Temperature above 104 F (40 C) for ages 3 and up, 102.2 F (39 C) ages 3 years to 3 months, and 100.4 F (38 C) for infants under 3 months old.
  • Dr. Wong advises to seek help if your temperature does not come down with medication. This could indicate a more serious problem.

Don’t be caught unprepared by the chills — it’s a good idea to have a doctor you can call when you get sick.

Editor's Note: This gallery was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .