What Happens in the Body During a Fever

A Doctor and a Concerned Mother Sit By a Childs Side

The human body has an incredible way of responding to external and environmental factors that threaten it. One of the best examples of this is fever, which is a very common cause of illness among children. Most people know that a fever is uncomfortable and exhausting, but many parents don’t understand what happens during a fever to the body and why their children feel so sick when a fever strikes.

This article provides an overview of the biological processes and reactions that take place in a child’s body while suffering from a fever.

Bodily Temperature Regulation

It is very important for the body to maintain a stable temperature so that all of the organs and systems can work in unison with one another. The brain, blood vessels, muscles, and skin all help regulate body temperature in various ways. This includes producing sweat, moving blood closer to or further away from the skin’s surface, altering the amount of water held and released by the body, and making conscious decisions to find a warmer or cooler environment.

The hypothalamus is located at the base of the brain and serves as a biological thermostat for the body. Biochemical substances known as pyrogens trigger the hypothalamus when they flow through the blood from sites with immune system problems. Once these substances are detected by the hypothalamus, the brain tells the body to retain more heat, thereby creating a fever. In very rare cases, the hypothalamus itself can malfunction, but this typically causes an abnormally low body temperature, rather than an elevated one.

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Reasons for Temperature Increases

A child’s body temperature can increase because of naturally occurring chemicals in the body, known as cytokines and mediators. These chemicals are produced when the body is invaded by a virus or bacteria. Body temperature can also rise when a child’s body is making more macrophages, a type of cell, or antibodies to fight substances that are intruding the body. At times, a membrane in the body that contains bacteria is broken, releasing toxins and causing the body’s temperature to rise.

Overall, the biological purpose of a fever is to rise the body’s temperature high enough that it kills harmful viruses and bacteria. But if fevers become too high or are left untreated for too long, cellular stress, seizures, delirium may result as consequences.

Conditions That Cause Fevers

Although viral infections are a very common cause of fevers, there are many medical conditions that can cause fevers to happen. A range of infectious diseases, brain disorders, autoimmune disorders, and certain medications can all trigger a fever. Infants and toddlers are often more prone to fevers than older children and adults.

What Happens During a Fever?

But the important thing to remember is that fevers are not the enemy, but a natural immune response. In fact, fevers are actually beneficial for children because they are an internal defense mechanism to fighting infectious diseases. Fevers help a child’s immune system do its job; however, they sometimes climb too high and do more harm than good. For a fever that is causing a child pain and discomfort, parents are encouraged to speak with their pediatricians about gentle over-the-counter medications like PediaCare.

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