Can Stress Cause Fever?

Updated July 09, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

Stress is known to cause numerous physical and behavioral symptoms. While it was once considered a function unique to your mental processes, the effects of stress can quickly and easily bleed over into actual physical ailments, and increasing bodies of research are supporting the notion that stress can cause illness, rather than just psychosomatic malaise. Stress has been known to cause headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and muscle spasms-but can stress cause a fever?

Stress Can Have Negative Physical Affects On Our Bodies
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Raised Temperatures

Fever is defined as a body temperature that exceeds the normal threshold. Although 98.6 degrees is considered the standard, "normal" temperature, some people's temperature baseline is closer to the low end of 97 degrees, and others' baseline might trend toward the high end of 99 degrees. Most schools and similar institutions consider a fever any temperature that exceeds 100.4 degrees and encourages people with a fever over this number to remain at home to prevent the possible spread of illness.

The term "fever" changes as you age. In infancy, a fever can be as little as 99 degrees, and infants with fevers are treated very quickly, due to the delicate nature of their systems. As children age, their tolerance to high fevers increases, and by the time a child reaches toddlerhood, the same "100.4" measurement is given to identify the presence of a fever definitively.

Why Does The Body Get Sick?

Fevers are often seen as negative. Many people immediately run to the medicine cabinet if a fever inches its way over 100.4 degrees, and begin to feel downright terrified that a fever hits 103 degrees, but fevers are wonderful little mechanisms built into the human body. A fever's function is to essentially burn off any foreign substances and invaders that are attacking the body, to ward off illness. Fevers are usually associated with the onset of illness, but in many cases signal the fending-off of illness, which is why fevers can spike as high as 104 degrees or higher without any visible signs of sickness or overt distress. This is particularly true in children. Seattle Children's Hospital released guidelines to keep parents at ease, demonstrating that fevers are not considered truly dangerous for the body or brain until they reach at least 108 degrees, at which point neurological function may be impaired.

Barring a severely high fever of 108 degrees, however, fevers are a protective mechanism intended to rid your body of anything it sees as potentially hazardous to your health. Bacteria and viruses can both cause fevers to develop, and a fever may or may not be followed by symptoms of the bacteria or virus responsible for the immune response, depending on how successful the fever itself was.

Impact Of Stress

The human body reacts powerfully and quickly to stress levels. When a single stressor arises, your muscles tense, your heart rate increases, your breathing increases, and your body essentially readies itself to either stand and fight, or to flee the danger causing your stress. Fortunately, most agitation in the modern world is due to the stresses of work, relationships, or monetary concerns, rather than the possibility of being attacked by wild animals-though that concern certainly still exists in some areas-unfortunately, your body and brain do not recognize the distinction.

This means that a problematic workday, an unpleasant altercation with a partner, or the piling-on of responsibility at school can all trigger an intense stress response, releasing a flood of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can lead to sweating, headaches. From these hormones, symptoms include sweating, headaches, dry mouth, and tension, which may take a few minutes or a few hours to subside. Even so, the stress response of this nature is usually short-lived, and should not present an immediate problem, barring the presence of heart disease or respiratory condition.

When stress responses are triggered constantly, however, or your body is pushed into a state of "fight or flight" on a near-permanent basis, stress begins to take a toll on your overall health and well-being. Stress can cause persistent and long-term physical health problems with your heart, your skin, your lungs, your musculature, your gastrointestinal system, and your hormone production, leading to periods of illness, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed, in addition to the potential for a faulty immune system reduced sexual desire, fragmented sleep, as well as other medical conditions such as chest pain, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.

Psychogenic Origins

Stress-induced fever is an actual, identifiable condition called "Psychogenic Fever." This type of fever is characterized by a sudden high fever with a psychosomatic root. The condition is more commonly seen in young women than in any other population. Fevers can leap as high as 105 degrees in this condition, or hold steady at 99-100 degrees, without any other visible cause.

In one of the most interesting parts of Psychogenic Fever, fever cannot be reduced by standard, over-the-counter medications, but responds well to sedative drugs intended to treat depression and anxiety. Psychogenic Fever also responds well to therapeutic modalities designed to lessen the effects of stress and create healthier coping patterns. The condition is not a common one, primarily affecting individuals under the age of eighteen, though it has been seen in adults of all ages.

Though these fevers have been well documented and observed, there is still very little known about them, and what makes this particular stress response likely to occur-or what makes it more likely to occur in children. Psychogenic fevers are not working to ward off illness, but appear to be directly and inextricably tied to the advent of stress, and are considered entirely stress-related. Easing the source of stress also eases the fever, making Psychogenic Fever one of the most striking examples of physical ailments created by high stress levels.

Treating Yourself

Some of these fevers go away on their own, after a period as little as a few hours, or as long as several weeks. The best way to treat a Psychogenic Fever, though, is to treat the source of stress triggering the fever. If your child experiences these fevers during exam season, consider creating an especially calm, relaxing, and welcoming environment at home during exam season. If you find yourself coming down with Psychogenic Fever, try to clear your schedule, engage in a relaxation practice such as meditation, or seek help from a mental health professional to improve your ability to process and manage stress.

Engaging in relaxation techniques at home can be a useful tool in easing Psychogenic fever. Meditation, yoga, and walking can all have beneficial effects on stress. Meditation encourages you to practice mindfulness, which can help alleviate the future-forward thinking that is so common to anxiety disorders. Yoga teaches you how to isolate your breath and improve flexibility, which helps regulate your nervous system. Walking gets your blood flowing and gets you out into nature, both things that have been linked to improvements in stress and anxiety disorders.

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Enlisting the help of a professional can be another effective tool in treating and ultimately eliminating Psychogenic Fever. Because the condition is predicated entirely on the presence of stress or anxiety, seeing a mental health professional to improve your symptoms of anxiety, develop tools to manage ongoing stress, and learn how to reason through panic attacks can drastically reduce the stress levels and anxiety that you experience, and can help your body's equilibrium to be restored, kicking stress-induced fever to the curb. 

If you don't have access to licensed therapists nearby, there are effective options available, to find a therapist, such as online therapy services. For example, BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that helps you find a therapist from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Connecting with a licensed therapist can help you identify the stressors in your life, and develop coping mechanisms to deal with stress in healthy ways, to eventually eliminate negative symptoms like stress-induced fever. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

“I'm only three sessions in with Enrique and already he's been helpful to me in dealing with stress and all of the related issues. Enrique is intelligent, he's experienced, and he has a nice way about him that made me feel comfortable with him from the start. Enrique is an excellent discussion partner, really makes me think, and he keeps me on track as a coach would. That's on track to talking through the issues and to a better me. I highly recommend this guy.”

Stress Can Have Negative Physical Affects On Our Bodies
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“Elise is kind, thoughtful, wise, and professional. We have a general plan of what we are working towards, though Elise is flexible as crises have come up and willing to redirect our work to deal with whatever is causing my stress at the moment. She follows up our weekly conversations with messages during the week to check in and see how I’m doing. I’ve enjoyed building a supportive relationship with Elise and strongly rely on her as one of the foundations in maintaining my mental health and well-being.”

Physical Manifestations

There is a very particular form of fever linked to stress, called Psychogenic Fever. This fever arises when stress and anxiety are present, and dissipates once the source of stress or anxiety has been removed. In instances where re is chronic stress or anxiety fever can also be persistent and ongoing. Although fever must reach a pitch of 108 degrees to be life-threatening or damaging, even fevers as low as 101 degrees can cause significant discomfort and upset. Chronic fevers can weaken your muscles, and make getting out of bed and attending to typical daily tasks difficult or impossible.
 
While fever in and of itself is not a dangerous response to stress, the presence of stress-induced fever does indicate an aggressive stressor or source of anxiety in your life. This stressor may be able to be reduced, as may be the case in a job that can be stepped down from or a relationship that can be eliminated, or may be able to be managed and minimized, perhaps through limiting your schedule or taking more time for relaxation and self-care.
 
If anxiety is the trigger for Psychogenic Fever, getting to the root of your anxiety and treating its symptoms can be the best route to take in healing Psychogenic Fever and preventing its onset in the future. Trained mental health professionals may be able to offer techniques to improve your anxiety symptoms and ultimately eliminate the negative effects stress may inflict. With therapy, improved lifestyle habits, and even, potentially, anti-anxiety medication, Psychogenic Fever may be a thing of the past in the life of you, a loved one, or a child.
 

Conclusion

If stress and anxiety are causing you to have a fever or other negative physiological effects on the body, seeking out treatment can change your life. Stress affects everyone from time to time and anxiety can feel challenging to overcome, chronic problems are something that can be fixed, and by learning how to cope, you will not only feel better mentally but physically as well when you find a therapist who knows how to treat these issues. Even if you’ve struggled for years, these are temporary states of mind, and you don’t have to suffer from anxiety and stress any longer.

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