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Fever in Adults (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for a Fever

When to call or see the doctor (or when to worry about a fever)

A fever has many possible causes. Most commonly, a fever is part of a viral infection that will go away on its own. However, there are some reasons to be concerned or worried about a fever; do not hesitate to call or see a doctor for any high fevers; the following is a "when to be worried" list that lists some symptoms and signs that indicate that people should seek medical care.

  • Call the doctor if any of these conditions exists:
    • If the temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or greater (fever is too high)
    • If the fever lasts more than seven days
    • If the fever symptoms get worse (concern if fever is increasing toward 39.4 C)
  • Call the doctor or consider going to an emergency center immediately if any of the following symptoms occur with any fever.
    • Confusion or excessive sleepiness
    • Stiff neck
    • Severe headache
    • Sore throat, especially with difficulty swallowing or if the person is drooling
    • Rash
    • Chest pain
    • Trouble breathing
    • Repeated vomiting
    • Abdominal pain
    • Blood in stool
    • Pain with urination
    • Leg swelling
    • Red, hot, or swollen area of skin
  • People with serious medical illnesses, such as cancer or HIV, may not show some or any of these warning signs. Mild symptoms with fever in this patient population should be discussed with the doctor to prevent them progressing into more serious infections or other conditions.

When to go to the hospital

Certain illnesses that occur with a fever can be life-threatening. Under these conditions, the person should go immediately to a hospital's emergency department:

  • Meningitis is life-threatening and highly contagious if caused by certain bacteria. If a person has the combination of a fever, severe headache, and stiff neck, he or she should be taken to the emergency department immediately.
  • A person with difficulty breathing or chest pain and a fever should go immediately to the emergency department or call for emergency medical transport.
  • If a person has a fever and blood in the stool, urine, or mucus, he or she should seek emergency medical help.
  • A person who has a fever and is very agitated or confused with no obvious reason should be transported to the emergency department.
  • Any person whose immune system is weakened (for example, people with cancer or AIDS) should call their doctor or go to the emergency department immediately if a fever develops. (See special medical conditions.)
  • Hyperthermia is an emergency. Call for emergency medical transport if a person has a temperature equal to or greater than 104 F (40 C), is confused, or is not responding to verbal stimuli or commands.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/10/2015
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Fever of Unknown Origin »

Fever of unknown origin (FUO) was defined in 1961 by Petersdorf and Beeson as the following: (1) a temperature greater than 38.3°C (101°F) on several occasions, (2) more than 3 weeks' duration of illness, and (3) failure to reach a diagnosis despite one week of inpatient investigation.

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