Fever due to stress - is there such a thing?


If the core body temperature rises to over 38 ° Celsius, one speaks of fever. There are a number of very different causes for fever, which is why it is one of the so-called general symptoms: It is an indication of a problem in the body, but as such is very unspecific. In most cases, an inflammatory or infectious cause is found to be responsible for the fever. In a few rare cases, however, no physical reason at all for the increased body temperature is found. In these cases, it can be useful to consider a psychological or psychosocial cause for the fever.

Fever due to stress - is there such a thing?

In fact, an increase in body temperature can be triggered by psychological stress. However, it is rare for the temperature to rise so high that it is a fever. One should also consider that the body temperature follows a natural daily rhythm anyway: Physiological hormone fluctuations can lead to subfebrile temperatures (that means over 37 or 37.5 ° C).

However, if you have now clearly measured feverish temperatures and have had a particularly stressful phase for some time, there may be an actual causal relationship. The exact mechanism can be explained by two different approaches - which one applies now differs depending on the person concerned and the situation. First of all, the stress can ensure that certain messenger substances are released in the body that put the body on "alert". With permanent release of these stress mediators, the body's metabolism is increased so much that the body temperature has also risen further and further until the defined limit for fever is exceeded.

Another explanation for fever caused by stress is the somatization of psychological complaints, in other words, the "embodiment" of stress. Strictly speaking, this is a psychiatric phenomenon and should be treated as such. Ultimately, however, to confirm the diagnosis of stress fever, all other possible causes, especially infectious diseases, must be clarified. Stress fever is therefore a diagnosis of exclusion that can only be made when all other causes have been disproved by the diagnosis or are out of the question.

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It is typical of fever due to stress that the agents normally used to lower the fever are less effective than usual in this particular form of fever. Therefore, other therapeutic approaches must be used that do not address the fever but rather the psychological stress. The treatment then consists - similar to an anxiety and panic disorder - of therapy and, if necessary, medication. The agents used are usually tranquilizers, i.e. drugs that have a calming or anxiolytic effect. Drug therapy should only be used in acute cases in which psychotherapy is otherwise not possible or if it is foreseeable that the triggering stress will soon end.

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Fever, which is caused by psychological stress, will last as long as the stress is present in the person's life. One should consider that one does not always perceive one's own stress as such: suppressing the feeling of stress can already be the trigger of the fever, since a lack of conscious handling often represents the first step towards somatization, i.e. the projection of stress onto the physical level .

Of course, stress cannot always be consistently avoided. But if feverish temperatures are already the result of stress, a stress-free lifestyle should be ensured at the latest. Accordingly, the body temperature should also have fallen back to a physiological value after a week at the latest. If this is not the case, medical help should be sought for another possible cause of the persistent fever.

Fever from stress in babies

So far there is little evidence that even toddlers or even babies can develop a fever from stress. It is theoretically possible - but then a long-lasting and intense stress must have preceded, which these children then transfer to the physical level. Since it is an extremely rare phenomenon even in adults, the diagnosis in children should be made even more carefully.

There are also many diseases that are experienced in childhood. It is important here to thoroughly examine any organic cause, as this must be monitored or treated in case of doubt. A stress fever should only be treated when all other, particularly infectious causes have been clarified and a source of stress in the life of the person concerned has been identified. Here, however, one dispenses with drug therapy approaches, but uses social-psychological measures.