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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The oral temperature generally runs 1 degree and the axillary 2 degrees below the rectal temperature.

Another complicating fact is that a person’s body temperature varies, with a fluctuation on any given day by as much as half a degree. Menstruating women’s temperatures vary significantly depending on where they are in their cycle.

The bottom line is that the measurement of a person’s temperature can be quite inaccurate, and should be interpreted in such a way.

What is a Fever?

So what is a fever?  The standard definition is that a fever is a rectal temperature above 100.4 F. A fever is caused by the body itselfusually in response to an infectionwhen the thermostat in the brain purposely raises the body temperature. There are other causes of fever, including systemic diseases, cancers, and staying out in the heat too long, but I’ll just cover the infectious cause in this podcast.

Is a Fever Good or Bad?

So, is fever bad? No, fever is the response of the body to fight off infection. Let me say that again: fever is a good thing. Here are the ways in which fever is good:

  1. It tells us when there is an infection, and the pattern of fever may give clues to the type of infection

  2. It slows us down so our bodies can focus on fighting the infection while we lie pathetically in bed

  3. Many infectious organisms don’t grow as well when the temperature is raised

  4. There is evidence that the immune system works better when a person has fever