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Treating fever in adults
Infection is a common cause of fever, but other conditions can also bring the heat.
Fever is one of the body's most effective ways of fighting infection.
The average body temperature is 98.6° F (37°C). But "normal" body temperature varies from person to person. It also changes during the day, rising a bit after you eat or exercise. Body temperature is often higher in the afternoon than it is when you wake up in the morning.
Fever means a body temperature of 100.4° F (38°C) or higher. An infection, such as the flu, is the most common cause of fever.
People with a fever may also:
- shiver (chills)
- have a headache
- have achy muscles
- not want to eat
- break out in a rash
- be restless
- feel weak.
A very high fever can cause confusion, extreme sleepiness, irritability, and seizures.
Diagnosing the cause of a fever
To help determine why you have a fever, your doctor will ask you about:
- other symptoms such as coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or pain when urinating
- recent surgeries or injuries
- recent vaccinations
- new drugs you may be taking
- recent travel, particularly travel abroad.
Treating a fever
Fever is part of your body's defense against infection-causing germs. By itself, fever is usually harmless, though a high fever can be miserable. These steps may help you feel better:
- Drink plenty of fluids to help cool your body and prevent dehydration.
- Eat light foods that are easy to digest.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or others), naproxen, (Aleve, Naprosyn, or others), acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or aspirin to help relieve head and body aches and lower your temperature.
- Take a slightly warm, not cool, bath or apply damp washcloths to the forehead and wrists.
- Dress lightly (even if you have chills).
If you have a fever over 104°F (40°C) call your doctor. Call your doctor right away if you have a fever along with any of these symptoms:
- loss of consciousness
- stiff neck
- trouble breathing
- severe pain anywhere in the body
- swelling or inflammation of any part of the body
- vaginal discharge that is discolored or smells bad
- pain when urinating or urine that smells bad
Image: yacobchuck/Getty Images
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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