Chills happen when there has been a change in your body's temperature, i.e. when your temperature falls below 36°C or above 38°C. You can also get chills from illnesses caused by viruses or bacteria and in special events like a panic attack.
It is normal to feel cold in temperate regions, particularly in your hands and feet in most cases. But if you notice that you are cold, even when you are not in a cold region, and you notice you are shivering with goosebumps, there may be an underlying cause.1 In this article, we will talk about why you may be having chills and what you should do in case it happens.
According to article2 on chills, chills happen when your body wants to raise its core temperature. This may seem confusing because chills and fever almost always go together, but not everyone with a fever gets chills, and not everyone with chills has a fever.
So, why exactly have I got chills?
There are a number of reasons why chills happen, and it might be what you think it is; however, it could be something else.
What are chills
What exactly are chills?
Chills are a feeling of being cold, usually followed by shivering, shaking and goosebumps; sometimes, you may have all three or just one. Chills cause these symptoms because your body is trying to regulate your core temperature back to normal.
Now, read on to find out why you may have chills.
Possible causes of chills
One of the following may be why you are experiencing chills. When your body temperature changes, your brain signals for your muscles to contract to produce heat to raise your core temperature back to normal. Most times, having chills may be a sign that something is wrong. Usually, it's not serious, but once in a while, it just might be. Chills may also happen just before you are about to have a fever, and likewise in children, so if your child is experiencing chills, do not hesitate to whip out your thermometer and check their temperature.
Chills can be caused by the following:1
Remember when we said chills and fever almost always go together? Now, we are going to explain how.
Viruses or bacteria are usually the cause of many infections, for example, the common cold, pneumonia, and ear infections. Before the start of these infections, you may experience chills right before a fever happens. Usually, chills start at the onset of an illness, just before the fever starts. The body will usually ache afterwards. Fever in children is usually present as a chill, so when you see a child with chills, get ready to check their temperature.
- Medication reaction
In some cases, having a chill may be a sign that you are allergic to a certain medication. It could happen after taking particular medications, such as those involved in chemotherapy. Chills may also happen when you stop medications, e.g. antidepressants or in cases of recreational drug withdrawals.
- Mental health
What if I told you that you could have chills when your mental health is disturbed?
This is true. Chills do occur when your emotions are triggered in mental health conditions like anxiety, panic attacks, and even PTSD. Fear or anxiety can cause chills, and they can also occur when you experience a near-death event.
- Cold environments
In cold environments, when your body temperature drops below normal, your body tries to produce heat by shivering and shaking, i.e. chills.
Chills from cancer are usually different from other causes. They can be present almost daily and usually occur at night. So, when you have chills occurring frequently, it may be time to see your GP.
- Low blood sugar (Hypoglycaemia)
One of the symptoms that your sugar may be low if you have diabetes is that you start having chills. This is seen more in people with Type I diabetes, and you may also experience other symptoms like dizziness, hunger, and confusion. So when you start having chills as a diabetic patient, it's time to quickly check your blood sugar!
You might also notice chills in conditions like low body weight, iron deficiency anaemia, hypothyroidism, and dehydration. When this occurs, you should make plans to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Management and treatment for chills
Usually, chills are managed depending on what the cause is. Wearing warm clothing or staying in a warm environment can help chills go away; drinking hot chocolate and taking lots of fluids is also therapeutic. Cover yourself with a light cloth and avoid thick blankets because you do not want to raise your temperature too high.2
In the presence of a fever, over-the-counter medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen might help relieve symptoms of flu. Also, be careful not to abuse medications, and if you notice that you are not getting better, it is time to see your doctor. Your doctor will ask you questions, examine you and perhaps run some tests to identify what may be causing the chills. If you are experiencing a bacterial infection, you may be given antibiotics to take care of the infection.2
When should I call a doctor for chills
You should call a doctor when you notice any of the following:3
- Chills that have persisted for some time, with other symptoms like night sweats or weight loss
- Fever that does not resolve after 48 hours
- Stiff neck
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach pain
- Chest pain
- Painful urination
According to this article on chills in children 4, you should call your child’s doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Fever in a baby less than 3 months old.
- Fever in a baby aged 3 to 6 months, and the child is irritable and doesn't eat.
- Fever in a child aged 6 to 24 months that lasts longer than 24 hours.
- Fever in a child aged 1 to 17 years lasting longer than three days, with the child not responding to treatment.
When you visit your doctor, they will ask you some questions about the chills so that they can identify what may have caused it. You may also be sent for some investigations to help pinpoint the cause of the chills.
Investigations may include:
- Blood tests, like blood cultures, check for the presence of bacteria or fungi in your blood.
- Chest X-rays, in the case of pneumonia
Chills may be a sign that something is wrong, especially when associated with fever. If chills persist longer than 48 hours, even after taking medications, you should see your doctor to determine the exact cause of the chills. Not all chills are associated with fever, but they are almost always present before a fever starts.
In children aged 6 months to 5 years, a fever may present as chills and, if left unchecked, may lead to fever-induced seizures, which are known as febrile seizures. These seizures usually do not cause complications once the cause of the fever has been managed.
- 11 Reasons You Have the Chills [Internet]. Health. [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/chills-causes
- Chills: Causes & Treatment [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21476-chills
- What You Should Know About the Chills? [Internet]. Healthline. 2018 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/chills
- Fever: First aid [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-fever/basics/art-20056685