Rigors

Alternative names 
Chills; Shivering

Definition
Chills are a sensation of cold from exposure to a cold environment or an episode of shivering with paleness and a feeling of coldness.

Considerations

“Goose bumps” are associated with a feeling of chilliness but are not necessarily associated with chills or fevers. Goose bumps raise the hairs on the body to form a layer of insulation.

Chills may occur at the beginning of an infection and are usually associated with a fever. Chills are caused by rapid muscular contraction and relaxation and are the body’s way of generating heat when it perceives that it is cold. Chills often herald the onset of a fever or increase in the body’s core temperature.

Chills may also represent a very significant and consistent finding in certain diseases such as malaria.

Chills are common in young children. Children tend, in general, to develop higher fevers than adults. Even minor illness may produce high fevers in young children.

Infants tend not to develop obvious chills, but any fever in an infant 6 months or younger should be reported to a health care provider. Fevers in infants 6 months to 1 year should also be reported unless the parent is absolutely certain of its cause.

Common Causes

     
  • Exposure to a cold environment  
  • Viral and bacterial infections       o Colds       o Influenza       o Strep throat       o Viral gastroenteritis       o Bacterial gastroenteritis       o Urinary tract infections such as pyelonephritis       o Infectious mononucleosis       o Pneumonia       o Meningitis

Home Care

Fever (which can accompany chills) is the body’s natural response to a variety of conditions, such as infection. If the fever is mild (102 degrees Fahrenheit or less) with no side effects, no professional treatment is required. Drink lots of fluids and get plenty of rest.

Evaporation cools the skin and thereby reduces body temperature. Sponging with comfortably warm water (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) may help in reducing a fever. Cold water, however, is uncomfortable, and may increase the fever because it can trigger chills.

Medications such as acetaminophen are effective in fighting a fever and chills. Children who have symptoms of a viral infection should not be given aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Do not bundle up in blankets if there is a high temperature; this will only cause a fever to rise.

Home care for a child:
If the child’s temperature is over 102 degrees Fahrenheit or if the child is uncomfortable, give pain-relieving tablets or liquid (non-aspirin containing analgesics such as acetaminophen are preferred). Follow the recommended dosage on the package label.

Children who have symptoms of a viral infection should not be given aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

If the child’s temperature is over 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit 1 to 2 hours after giving medication for fever, place the child in a tub of lukewarm water up to the navel. Rub a wet washcloth or towel over the child’s body for 20 minutes or for as long as can be tolerated. Add warm water as needed to maintain the water temperature and keep the child from shivering. Pat (don’t rub) the child dry with a towel.

     
  • Dress the child in light clothing, provide liquids, and keep the room cool but not uncomfortable.  
  • Don’t use ice water or rubbing alcohol to reduce a child’s temperature. These can cause shock.  
  • Don’t bundle a feverish child in blankets.  
  • Don’t wake a sleeping child to give medication or take a temperature; sleep is more important.

Call your health care provider if

     
  • There is stiffness of the neck, confusion, significant irritability, or sluggishness.  
  • There is a significant cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain or burning and/or frequency of urination.  
  • There is a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more in a child younger than 3 months of age.  
  • A child between 3 months and 1 year old has a fever that lasts more than 24 hours.  
  • The fever remains above 103 degrees Fahrenheit after an hour or 2 of home treatment.  
  • The fever does not improve after 3 days or has lasted more than 5 days.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office

The health care provider will obtain your medical history and will perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions documenting chills in detail may include the following:

     
  • Qquality       o Is it a cold feeling only?       o Are you actually shaking ?       o What has been the highest body temperature associated with the chills?  
  • Time pattern       o Did the chills happen only once or are there multiple separate occurrences (episodic)?       o How long does each attack last (for how many hours)?       o Did chills occur within 4 to 6 hours after exposure to something that you or your child are allergic to?       o Did they begin suddenly?       o Do they occur repeatedly (recurrent)?           + How often (how many days between episodes of chills)?  
  • What other associated symptoms are present?

The physical examination may include emphasis on the skin, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, chest, and abdomen. Body temperature will likely be checked.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:

     
  • Bblood (such as CBC or blood differential) and urine tests (such as urinalysis)  
  • Sputum, blood, and urine cultures  
  • X-ray of the chest

Treatment depends on the duration of the chills, and accompanying symptoms, especially fever.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Martin A. Harms, M.D.

Medical Encyclopedia

  A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | 0-9

All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.