What is Fever?
Fever is a mechanism by which the body defends itself against pathogens. Fever by itself cannot cause death. It is a symptom rather than a disease and often a manifestation of a pathogenic condition occurring inside the body. A rise in the internal body temperature such that it is higher than 37.8° C (recorded orally) or 38.2° C (recorded rectally) is defined as fever. Before we understand how a rise in temperature is capable of causing death, it is essential to understand the mechanism of fever. The human body has a hypothalamic thermoregulatory centre, which works to maintain the internal temperature of the body between 37° C to 38° C. Any stimulus which may cause the hypothalamic set point to rise causes fever.
The most common stimulus that causes fever is pathogenic infection. Other causes of fever include inflammatory processes in the body or other serious conditions such as tumor. A rise in hypothalamic set point causes narrowing of the blood vessels in order to reduce the peripheral blood flow and increase the heat within the body. This is characterised by shivering. This continues till the blood supply around the hypothalamus reaches a new set point.
Fever comes down when the hypothalamic set point is reset to a lower point. This is achieved with anti-pyretic drugs such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which has the property to produce heat loss by sweating and reflexive vasodilation.
How High Does A Fever Have To Be To Be Fatal?
If the fever is not controlled, it can lead to serious complications including death. Rise in temperature above 107.8° F should be treated as an emergency, as it is capable of causing death. Rise in internal temperature causes denaturation or break down of protein, which in turn hinders the normal functioning of the cells. If fever is left untreated, there may be irreversible changes in the cells causing cell destruction followed by tissue destruction, organ failure and ultimately death.
How Long Is Too Long To Have A Fever?
In terms of duration, any fever (high or low) if it does not improve within 48 hours should be reported to a physician. It is not the temperature but the symptoms associated with condition that may be fatal, and thus should be dealt with carefully.
As a general rule, it is advised to stay alert if the temperature rises above 105° F or if there is no improvement in fever for 48 hours. It is advised to rush the patient to the emergency centre if such a condition arises.
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