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What are chills?

The term "chills" refers to a feeling of being cold without an apparent cause. You get this feeling when your muscles repeatedly expand and contract. Chills can occur with a fever and cause shivering or shaking.

Your body chills can be constant. Each episode can last for as long as an hour. Your chills can also occur periodically and last for several minutes.

Some chills occur after exposure to a cold environment. They can also occur as a response to a bacterial or viral infection that causes a fever. Chills are commonly associated with the following conditions:

  • bacterial or viral gastroenteritis
  • influenza (flu)
  • meningitis
  • sinusitis
  • pneumonia
  • strep throat
  • urinary tract infections
  • malaria

Treating chills at home

If you or your child has a fever with chills, there are some things you can do at home for comfort and relief. Keep reading to learn how to treat a fever with chills and when you should call a doctor.

Home care for adults

Treatment is usually based on whether your chills are accompanied by a fever and the severity of the fever. If your fever is mild (101.4ºF or less) and you have no other serious symptoms, you don’t have to see a doctor. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids.

Cover yourself with a light sheet and avoid heavy blankets or clothing, which can raise your body temperature. Sponging your body with lukewarm water or taking a cool shower may help reduce a fever. Cold water, however, may trigger an episode of chills.

Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil), can also lower a fever and fight chills. As with any medication, carefully follow the instructions and take them as directed. Aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil) will lower your fever and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will bring down a fever, but it will not reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver if it isn’t taken as directed.

Call your doctor if your fever and chills don’t improve after 48 hours of home care or if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • stiff neck
  • wheezing
  • severe coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • confusion
  • sluggishness
  • irritability
  • abdominal pain
  • painful urination
  • frequent urination or lack of urination
  • forceful vomiting
  • unusual sensitivity to bright light

Home care for children

Treating a child with chills and fever depends on the child’s age, temperature, and any accompanying symptoms. In general, if your child’s fever is between 100ºF and 102ºF and they are uncomfortable, you can give them acetaminophen in tablet or liquid form. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions on the package.

Never bundle feverish children in heavy blankets or layers of clothing. Dress them in lightweight clothing and give them water or other liquids to keep them hydrated.

Never give aspirin to children under the age of 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious disorder that can develop in children who were given aspirin while fighting a viral infection.

According to the Mayo Clinic, call a doctor in the case of any of the following:

  • a fever in a child younger than 3 months old
  • a fever in a child age 3 to 6 months, and the child is lethargic or irritable
  • a fever in a child age 6 to 24 months that lasts longer than one day
  • a fever in a child age 24 months to 17 years that lasts longer than three days and doesn’t respond to treatment

Medical treatment for chills

Your doctor will ask details about your chills and fever, including:

  • Do the chills make you shake, or do you only feel cold?
  • What was your highest body temperature that was accompanied by chills?
  • Have you had chills just once or have you had repeated episodes of chills?
  • How long did each episode of chills last?
  • Did the chills begin after exposure to an allergen, or did they begin suddenly?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

Your doctor will perform a physical examination and possibly run diagnostic tests to see if a bacterial or viral infection causes your fever. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • a blood test, including a blood culture to detect bacteria or fungi in the blood
  • a sputum culture of secretions from the lungs and bronchi (tubes in the lungs)
  • urinalysis (a physical, chemical, and microscopic examination of your urine to detect and measure bacteria in the urine)
  • a chest X-ray to detect pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other infections

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if you’re diagnosed with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or pneumonia.

What is the outlook for chills?

Chills and fever are signs that something is wrong. If chills and fever persist after treatment, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.

If a fever goes untreated, you may experience severe dehydration and hallucinations. Children ages 6 months to 5 years may also have fever-induced seizures (febrile seizures). Luckily, these seizures do not typically cause long-term health problems.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Maureen Donohue and Valenica Higuera
Medically reviewed on: Oct 01, 2015: Steven Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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