Can stress cause a fever? Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment

  • Both acute and chronic stress can trigger fever, chills or body aches, fatigue, and skin flushing.
  • Fevers caused by stress are called psychogenic fevers and are more common in women.
  • To treat a psychogenic fever, try anti-stress methods like mindfulness.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

Stress can have a major impact on your physical and mental health. While chronic stress can lead to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, it can also make you physically ill and can even contribute to long-term conditions like heart disease.

Additionally, stress can cause fever even in the absence of underlying illness or infection. This is known as a psychogenic fever.

“A phenomenon has been described where stress appears to increase core body temperature in the absence of other inflammatory processes such as infection or injury,” explains Katrina Miller Parrish, MD, Quality and Information Manager for LA Care Health Plan.

What is a psychogenic fever?

A psychogenic fever is an increase in body temperature caused by stress. It is sometimes called stress-induced hyperthermia.

According to a scientific article 2015 in the journal Temperature. Other typical causes of fever, such as infection or illness, should be ruled out.

Doctors don’t understand exactly why this happens, according to Miller Parrish, but they think either the brain increases in temperature in response to stress, or stress hormones interact with the endocrine system and cause body temperature to rise.

For example, a study 2020 published in the journal Science revealed that the stress response affects the hypothalamus in rats, which is the area of ​​the brain that controls body temperature. But more research is needed to determine if this is the case for humans.

Psychogenic fevers can occur at any age and seem to occur more frequently in women than in men. However, since there has not been much research, there is no accurate and consistent data.

A 2009 study published in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine examined the health records of 2,705 patients who visited the Department of Psychosomatics at the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Japan. Of these patients, 2% were diagnosed with psychogenic fevers. Patients with these fevers ranged in age from 11 to 82; about 30% of them were men, while about 70% were women.

“It is difficult to know the true prevalence of psychogenic fever because it may go unreported as much as it exists,” says Miller Parrish. “If we took all people with any kind of stress and notioned that some of that total had stress-induced hyperthermia, that would be a pretty high number.”

How to tell if stress is causing your fever

A psychogenic fever has many typical fever symptoms, such as:

In times of acute stress, such as suddenly receiving bad news or experiencing the death of a loved one, you may experience these symptoms and recognize a psychogenic fever. But the cases are rarely so clear cut. This is especially true with chronic stress, such as caring for a loved one who is sick, which can build up over time and lead to symptoms of psychogenic fever.

To diagnose psychogenic fever, other physical causes of fever must be ruled out, says Miller Parrish. It is important to note that fever most often occurs with illness or injury. So, if you also have symptoms such as stuffy nose or cough with fever, this likely points to an underlying cause of the fever other than stress, such as the flu or a cold.

If you regularly have a fever but can’t easily identify the underlying cause, such as an illness or injury, you should keep a fever diary, says Miller Parrish. Write down the temperature you feel, the symptoms you have, and the duration of the fever. If the unexplained fever persists, you should see a doctor.

“If this persists for days or weeks, it would be prudent to seek medical attention to rule out causes requiring medical treatment,” says Miller Parrish. “If these causes are eliminated or treated and the high temperatures persist, other psychological and de-stressing interventions may help.”

How to Treat a Psychogenic Fever

If you suffer from a psychogenic fever, you will need to work to reduce your stress level.

Most psychogenic fevers are short-lived and go away on their own. Reducing stress through therapy and nonmedical interventions like mindfulness can also help treat psychogenic fevers.

“If the fever is due to stress, it is essential to reduce the stress,” explains Miller Parrish. First, you will need to identify what is stressing you out. It can be a specific incident or an ongoing stressor like untreated anxiety,


depression

, or burnout. Once you identify the source of the stress, you can tackle the root cause of the fever.

“Depending on the cause, the antidote could be cognitive behavioral therapy or other psychological therapy, meditation, yoga, and practices focused on decreasing a stressful state, or maybe even medication to treat the problem. “, explains Miller Parrish.

Insider’s Takeaways

In some cases, stress can cause fever, and these psychogenic fevers are likely underdiagnosed, says Miller Parrish.

Nevertheless, if you suffer from unexplained fevers that are common or persistent, you should see a doctor to rule out physical causes and treat the underlying cause of the stress, whether through medication, behavioral intervention, or both.