When to Worry About a Fever

Do you starve or feed a fever? Can fever cause brain damage or seizures? Find out the truth from House Call Doctor

Rob Lamberts, MD,
January 17, 2013
Episode #022

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Can Fever be Harmful?

So what about the belief that fever can cause brain damage? It’s a myth that creates an unhealthy fear about fever. Only brains that are already damaged or brains overheated from the outside are at risk of being damaged. A person with a fever accompanying an infection will not get brain damage, no matter how high the temperature.

The fever itself is not harmful, but the infection that causes it may be.

But that does not mean you should never worry about a fever. Fevers are a clue that may tell us that the person has a dangerous infection. The fever itself is not harmful, but the infection that causes it may be.

When to Worry About a Fever?

So when is it OK to worry about a fever? A fever in an infant under four months of age should always cause concern and the baby should be seen immediately. Young infants can have serious infections with the only sign being a fever. Only the trained eye can determine whether to worry or not, and infants under two months of age are often hospitalized with only a fever, just to be on the safe side.

In everyone else, the symptoms that accompany the fever have to be taken into account in deciding when to worry. A fever and stiff neck may mean meningitis. A fever with cough and difficulty breathing may mean pneumonia. In all of these cases, fever is just a part of the puzzle pointing to the underlying disease.

Finally, a fever that lasts over a week can be the sign of something more serious. Most fevers lasting this long are not serious, but they should prompt a visit to the doctor.


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