Chills: causes, treatment, home remedies

Hanna Rutkowski is a freelance author for the NetDoktor medical editorial team.

chills (Med .: Febris undularis) know many people as a harbinger of febrile illnesses. The body temperature is turned up to ward off intruders such as bacteria or viruses. There is a feeling of cold, and the tremors literally shake the person concerned. But the strong muscle tremor quickly increases the body temperature. The unpleasant chills are often a symptom of infectious diseases such as colds, flu and the like. Here we describe which home remedies for the tremors help and what function the chills have in the body.

Chills: description

chills (Febris undularis) often appears as an announcement of fever. Bacterial infections, parasites, viruses or fungi activate the body’s own defenses and release so-called pyrogens. These fever-inducing pyrogens give the signal in the heat regulation center of the brain to increase the temperature. The result is fever – a body temperature above 38 degrees Celsius.

In order to raise the temperature, the body uses a tried and tested remedy that is also used to generate heat when freezing or hypothermia: movement through muscle tremors. Chills are nothing more than the rapid contraction of large skeletal muscles such as the thigh, the chewing muscles or the back. Since the lower jaw is rather loosely attached to the head, this leads to the well-known teeth rattle. The many small twitches in the muscles generate heat and thus effectively and quickly raise the body temperature. In addition, these areas of the body are supplied with more blood, which also provides warmth. The cold showers that typically accompany the chills are added to the name. Usually the chills cannot be influenced at will. The tremor attacks occur at intervals, last for several minutes and then disappear again. Since the muscle tremors in the already weakened state represent a great physical exertion, you often fall into a deep sleep afterwards.

Chills: causes and possible diseases

The most common cause of chills are febrile illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Fever is also caused by tumors or autoimmune diseases, which in isolated cases can release pyrogens. In order to increase the body temperature by a few degrees, the body relies not only on chills, but also on reduced skin circulation and an increased metabolism. In children, small infections are usually enough to cause the temperature to skyrocket. Chills are much more common in young patients. It can also be an indication of common teething problems.

The list of diseases with chills as a symptom is long. The most common causes are:

  • Flu and cold: Most people have already experienced the typical complaints of viral infections – feeling sick, headache and body aches, fever with chills.
  • Pneumonia: In addition to coughing and expectoration as well as chest pain, high fever with chills is a typical symptom in pneumonia.
  • Scarlet fever (Scarlatina): The first symptoms of this childhood disease are chills, fever followed by vomiting and inflammation of the throat and tonsils. The disease is milder with antibiotics.
  • Wundrose (erysipelas): The scarlet fever can also cause inflammation of the subcutis. Before the typical, painful rash becomes visible, chills and high fever can appear.
  • Inflammation of the kidney (pyelonephritis):Blood in the urine, nausea and vomiting, and high fever with chills are signs of cystitis.
  • Orchitis: It can be caused by bacteria. In addition to severe pain, an increase in body temperature is also a hallmark.
  • Blood poisoning (sepsis): If bacteria or fungi spread to the entire organism, there is a risk to life. Signs are high fever and chills. The heartbeat and breathing also skyrocket. There is often a general lack of defense, for example in older patients, small children or people with HIV.
  • Tetanus (tetanus): Significant muscle cramps follow initial flu-like symptoms. In Germany, vaccinations rarely lead to tetanus.

Chills can also be caused by circumstances that do not cause a fever or serve to increase the temperature. Examples are:

  • Hypothermia: The muscle tremors and chattering of teeth when freezing serves to generate heat in the body. In addition, vessels lying on the periphery of the body narrow so that the heat does not escape through the skin and vital organ functions are maintained.
  • Sunstroke: After prolonged sun exposure on the unprotected head or neck, the meninges may become irritated. Dizziness, vomiting, nausea, agitation and chills are signs of heat stroke. Immediate cooling is important here!
  • Withdrawal symptoms: After this Discontinuation of certain medications, drugs, nicotine or alcohol can lead to physical and psychological symptoms, which can also be expressed by chills.
  • Mental illness: So-called hyperkinetic disorders such as ADHD can cause chills. Anxiety disorders are also among the mental illnesses that cause muscle tremors.
  • Acute glaucoma: If there is a rapid increase in intraocular pressure, the doctor must be contacted immediately. Signs include sudden headache and vision loss, noticeable hardening of the eyeball, nausea, vomiting and chills.
  • Mushroom poisoning: Nausea, vomiting, chills and muscle spasms can be signs of poisoning (not only with poisonous mushrooms).
  • Hyperthyroidism: The metabolism activating effect of the thyroid hormones increases the muscle activity – muscle tremors can be present here in addition to the symptoms of hyperfunction.

When traveling abroad – especially to tropical countries – there is a risk of becoming infected with the infectious diseases that occur there. If you have a sudden febrile illness after a vacation, usually followed by chills and diarrhea, you should be vigilant and be sure to see a doctor. Fever and chills are typical of these tropical diseases:

Diseases with this symptom

Find out here about the diseases in which the symptom can occur:

Chills: when you need to see a doctor?

You do not have to see a doctor immediately if you experience chills. If you have the flu or cold, you usually have certain symptoms in advance, such as a general feeling of illness, headache and body aches, and exhaustion. There may also be chills that cause cold shivers down the spine and end in a fever. Most of the time the chills go during a cold or flu without any further health consequences and you don’t have to worry. With some home remedies, you can even control muscle tremors yourself to get. Only the flu itself can be treated here.

However, you should consult a doctor, if the Chills are extraordinarily vehement, strong, or long-lasting. If the strong muscle tremor appears to be without reason (e.g. with no signs of infection), you should also consult a doctor. If you suffer from chills, fever, vomiting or diarrhea after a vacation trip, a tropical infectious disease could be the reason. The same applies here: be sure to see a doctor!

Chills: what the doctor does?

The personal conversation (anamnese) provides the doctor with important information and indications of the origin of the chills. With the help of a targeted questioning of the patient, the doctor tries to find out the reason – the chills can have many different causes. Information about the last vacation, the enjoyment of incompatible food and addictive behavior make it easier to search for traces if the cause is not immediately obvious.

In the physical exam palpation of swollen lymph nodes and listening to the lungs can provide other important clues. It can often be said afterwards what triggers the chills.

Foci of inflammation in the body can be Blood test in the laboratory discover. In this way, various microorganisms can be detected and the source of the infection narrowed. Additional imaging procedures such as ultrasound or a chest X-ray help to substantiate the suspicion.

If it is an infectious disease, antibiotics can be used against the bacteria. Antipyretic drugs are particularly effective for febrile diseases, which also relieve chills. Muscle tremors can also be alleviated with home remedies such as hot tea and warmth.

If the chills occur after a long day of sunshine as a result of a heat stroke, you must ensure good cooling.

Important investigations

These examinations help to find out the causes of the complaints:


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Christina Cherry
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