Chills are a feeling of being cold. They are sometimes accompanied by rhythmic muscle contractions throughout the body, or shivers.
The origin of chills can be physical, psychological, or both.
Chills, fevers, shivering, and goosebumps are all steps that the body takes to raise its inner temperature. This is a protective action that keeps key organs warm if the external environment is too cold, and it helps the body fight off infections.
In this article, learn about the possible causes of chills, as well as some home remedies, treatment options, and when to see a doctor.
Many different factors can cause chills. Cold external temperatures may be the most common, but a temperature that causes shivering in one person may be completely comfortable for someone else.
In addition to cold temperatures, some other causes of chills may include:
- Infection: If body aches and a fever occur alongside chills, it could indicate that the body is fighting off a viral or bacterial infection. Common infections include colds, flus, and urinary tract infections.
- Low blood sugar: Chills can be a symptom of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous for people with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), low blood sugar can cause mild symptoms, such as chills and shaking, as well as more serious symptoms, such as vision problems and seizures.
- Emotional reactions: Some people may experience chills when they feel powerful emotions, such as joy or sorrow. These feelings can come from real life events or stem from music or art.
- Malaria: Although it is rare in the United States, people who travel to more tropical regions where this mosquito-borne infection is more common should contact a doctor if sweats, a fever, nausea, and body aches accompany their chills.
- Inflammatory diseases: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause fevers, which may be accompanied by chills.
- Medications: Some drugs can also cause chills or a fever. One study found that 15% of people who had a bad reaction to medications experienced chills.
- Leukemia: Chills, a fever, abdominal pain, and fatigue can all be symptoms of blood cancers such as leukemia.
For adults, a fever is defined as a temperature of 100.4°F (38°C).
Since the appearance of the novel coronavirus, people may be concerned that their symptoms are due to COVID-19.
Chills can be a symptom of a fever, which is one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19. Other symptoms include a dry cough and shortness of breath.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of COVID-19 most often appear 2–14 days after exposure to the novel coronavirus.
If a person is experiencing persistent chills, a doctor can help diagnose the underlying cause. To do so, they may:
- review a person’s vital signs by taking their blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and temperature readings
- take a complete medical history, covering preexisting conditions, travel, medications, and other medical treatment
- ask about other symptoms, such as coughing, digestive issues, rashes, or other concerns
- conduct a physical examination, covering key areas such as the eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and abdomen
Doctors may conduct additional tests — such as chest X-rays, blood tests, and urine cultures — if they suspect a particular underlying condition.
The only way to be sure whether or not someone has COVID-19 is to receive a test. However, the CDC are not currently recommending that everyone get tested, because these tests are limited. Their focus is on healthcare workers and people who are very sick.
To find out if tests are available, a person can contact their local or state health department.
Self-care at home can sometimes be all that is necessary when someone has the chills. They can take their temperature regularly to see if they are running a fever.
If the temperature is elevated, home treatments can include:
- drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
- taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to reduce discomfort
- taking acetaminophen for pain relief
- applying damp, lukewarm cloths to the forehead
- wearing comfortable clothes
- making sure that the person has enough covers to feel comfortable
Chills are a symptom, not a disease, so treating chills largely depends on what is causing them.
If chills occur due to a mild infection, home treatment with bed rest, plenty of fluids, and OTC pain relievers can provide relief.
If chills are bothersome, it is best to wear layers and keep warm.
People with diabetes should discuss their risk and possible symptoms of low blood sugar with their healthcare provider, and they should make plans for handling these issues if they occur.
Chills that occur due to other underlying health conditions should resolve when a person receives treatment for that condition.
People with chills need to see a doctor if they develop:
- a fever over 104°F, in adults
- difficulty breathing
- a stiff neck
- a rash
- inflammation or swelling anywhere on the body
- a very rapid heartbeat
- a fever that does not respond to home treatments or lasts longer than 5 days
People with chronic health concerns — such as kidney, heart, or lung disease — should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they notice any unusual symptoms, such as chills or a fever.
According to the CDC, people who think that they may have COVID-19 should seek urgent medical care if they develop the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain or pressure
- confusion or lethargy
- a blue tinge to the lips or face
Chills can occur as an early warning system, alerting a person to the fact that their body is fighting off an infection, not getting enough glucose, or simply too cold.
They may also be a symptom of an underlying illness. Anyone with frequent and persistent chills may therefore wish to speak to a doctor.
For most people, however, chills will pass in a few hours or days, even if they are a symptom of a fever or infection.