Can Stress Cause Fever?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Since discovering the mind-body connection, scientists and psychologists have examined whether stress and emotional challenges can cause physical symptoms. Understanding the connection between stress and health can help you ensure a healthy self-care practice and daily routine targeting your mind and body. 

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Target stress to reduce unwanted physical symptoms

What is a fever? 

Fever is a body temperature that exceeds the average threshold. Although 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is considered a "normal" temperature, some people's baseline temperature is closer to the low end of 97 degrees, and others' might trend toward 99 degrees. Temperatures of over 100.4 are most often considered a fever. In infancy, however, a fever can be as little as 99 degrees, and infants with fevers are often treated quickly due to the delicate nature of their immune systems. 

What is the purpose of a fever? 

Some people may immediately run to the medicine cabinet if a fever inches over 100.4 degrees and feel terrified if it hits 103 degrees or higher. Still, fevers are a helpful reaction in the human body and serve a purpose. 

A fever is meant to burn off foreign substances and invaders attacking the body to prevent illness. Bacteria and viruses can cause fevers, which may be followed by symptoms of the bacteria or virus responsible for the immune response, depending on the fever's success. 

Fevers are associated with the onset of illness, but they can spike as high as 104 degrees or higher without visible signs of sickness or overt distress, especially in children. Seattle Children's Hospital released guidelines to keep parents at ease when fevers like these occur. 

Stress's impact on the human body 

Stress is known to cause numerous physical and behavioral symptoms, including headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and muscle spasms. 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 readies itself to fight or flee the danger causing your stress.

A problematic workday, an unpleasant altercation with a partner, or the piling-on of responsibility at school can all incite an intense stress response, releasing a flood of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones cause symptoms like sweating, headaches, dry mouth, and tension, which may take a few minutes or hours to subside. Even so, a stress response of this nature is often short-lived. 

When stress responses are constantly incited, or your body is pushed into a state of "fight or flight" on a near-permanent basis, stress can begin to take a toll on your overall health and well-being. Stress can cause persistent and long-term physical health challenges with your heart, skin, lungs, muscles, gastrointestinal system, and hormone production, leading to periods of illness, exhaustion, and overwhelm.

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Can stress cause a fever? 

Stress-induced fever is an identifiable condition called "psychogenic fever." A sudden high fever with no physical roots characterizes this type of fever. These fevers can rise as high as 105 degrees or hold steady at 99 to 100 degrees without any other visible cause.

Psychogenic fevers do not respond to standard, over-the-counter medications but may respond well to medications that treat depression and anxiety. Psychogenic fever also responds to therapeutic modalities designed to lessen the effects of stress and encourage healthy coping techniques. The condition is uncommon, primarily affecting individuals under 18, though it has been seen in adults of all ages.

Though these types of fevers have been well documented and observed, little is known about what makes this stress response likely to occur. Psychogenic fevers do not serve to ward off illness but appear 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 an example of a physical ailment caused by high-stress levels.

How do you treat a fever caused by stress? 

Some stress-caused fevers go away on their own after as little as a few hours or as long as several weeks. The best way to treat a psychogenic fever is to treat the source of stress. If your child experiences these fevers during exam season, consider creating a calm, relaxing, and welcoming environment at home during exam season. If you are 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 valuable 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 future-forward thinking commonly experienced alongside stress and anxiety. Yoga teaches you to isolate your breath and improve flexibility, which helps control your nervous system. Walking gets your blood flowing and gets you out into nature, which may improve stress and anxiety disorders.

Enlisting the help of a professional can be an 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 can improve your anxiety symptoms, allow you to develop tools to manage ongoing stress and support you in learning how to reason through panic attacks.

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Target stress to reduce unwanted physical symptoms

Counseling options 

If you are considering therapy to help you cope with stress, several options are available. Some people choose online therapy platforms like BetterHelp because of their convenience and affordability. With online therapy, you can meet with your counselor from the comfort and safe space of your own home. Connecting with a licensed therapist can help you identify the stressors in your life and develop coping mechanisms to cope with stress in healthy ways, eventually eliminating negative symptoms like stress-induced fever. 

Research shows that online therapy is effective. One review showed that online treatment led to a 50% improvement in symptoms of several mental health conditions, including general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, significantly limiting stress's impact on the body and mind. 

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.”

“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.”

Takeaway

If stress and anxiety are causing you to have a fever or other adverse effects on the body, seeking out treatment may be beneficial. Stress affects everyone occasionally, and anxiety can feel challenging to overcome. Talking to a therapist can help you learn how to cope. You're not alone; there are many ways to receive professional guidance.

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