What are chills?
Chills are a sign that your body is trying to regulate its core temperature. When you have chills, you may:
- Shiver or tremble.
- Have chattering teeth (your jaw feels like it’s rattling, sometimes with your teeth bumping together).
- Have goosebumps (small rash-like bumps on the skin), also known as gooseflesh or goose pimples.
These are involuntary body responses. Involuntary means you can’t consciously control them. Shivering causes your muscles to contract and relax, which warms up your body.
Sometimes you might get cold chills from being exposed to low temperatures. Shivering can also be a sign that your body is fighting off an illness, infection or another health problem.
What causes chills?
You experience chills when your body’s core temperature drops. For most people, the average core temperature hovers around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). A “normal” temperature can vary between 97 F and 99 F, though.
Your body’s temperature naturally varies. But very low temperatures are dangerous. Exposure to extreme cold can lead to hypothermia (low body temperature). This problem occurs when body temperature drops below 95 F (35 C).
These health conditions can also make you shiver:
- Bacterial infections like listeria, pneumonia and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Cancers, such as leukemia.
- Drug withdrawal (substance abuse).
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in people with diabetes.
- Menopausal night sweats or hot flashes.
- Panic attacks.
- Parasite infections like giardiasis.
- Viruses, including those that cause the flu.
What are other causes of chills?
As many as two in three people experience chills and shivering after receiving general anesthesia for a surgery. Even if you aren’t feeling cold, a drop in body temperature may cause you to shiver as you come out of the anesthesia.
Some people tremble from a surge of adrenaline after a traumatic event like an accident or near accident. Psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may also make you feel shaky.
How can I prevent chills?
You can prevent cold chills by dressing warmly when you know you’ll be in the cold. Wearing layers allows you to adjust your clothes for the temperature so you don’t get sweaty. Sweating and then getting cold can lower your body temperature too much.
You can also take steps to safeguard your health against medical conditions that cause chills. Avoid misusing drugs or alcohol. If you have a condition like diabetes, take care to manage your blood sugar.
Care and Treatment
How are chills treated?
Layering clothes or getting to a warm place can make cold chills go away. You can also drink hot chocolate, coffee or tea to raise your internal body temperature.
If an illness, infection or another health problem causes chills, treating the condition should get rid of the symptom. Treatments vary depending on the underlying cause. They may include:
- Antibiotics for bacterial and parasitic infections.
- Antiviral medications for viral infections.
- Over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®), for conditions like flu that cause fevers and chills.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I contact a healthcare provider?
You should contact your healthcare provider if you experience body chills and:
- Temperature above 104 F (40 C) or below 95 F (35 C) in an adult or a child older than three.
- Temperature above 102.2 F (39 C) in a child aged three months to three years.
- Temperature above 100.4 F (38 C) in an infant younger than three months.
- Chest pain or unexplained pain.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Severe abdominal pain.
- Wheezing or difficulty breathing.
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is causing my chills?
- How should I treat chills?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
Chills can cause an uncomfortable sensation of shivering and goosebumps. They’re often a sign that your body feels too cold or is fighting off an illness. Many people feel chilled when they have a fever. Warming your body with more clothes and heat can ward off cold chills. If a sickness causes chills, see your healthcare provider. Most chills pass within a few hours or days. In the meantime, pile on the blankets and make a cup of tea.
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