Normally, our body maintains a core temperature of 36.5–37.5°C (97.7–99.5°F). Pyrogens or fever-inducing substances increase the amount of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in the body. When this PGE2 reaches the hypothalamus, it raises the body temperature. The “new” normal setpoint is typically raised to 1 to 2°C higher. Additionally, PGE2 contributes to inflammation and pain in headache and fever occurring together.
During a fever, the brain wants to maintain this higher temperature, so our environment feels colder than usual. This is why we tend to shiver and bundle up even if it’s already summertime and everyone else is trying to stay cool.
When should you be worried about a headache and fever?
Headaches and fevers are common and usually self-limiting when associated with a viral infection, such as a cold or flu. Staying hydrated, taking OTC meds, and resting are generally enough for a few days. However, if you have been taking fever medications for more than 3 days or pain relievers for more than 7 days, then your illness may be serious. If this is the case, now would be the time to seek medical attention from a physician.
Additionally, if you can say your headache is the “worst headache of my life” and hit you quickly, this may be a medical emergency. A thunderclap headache with or without neck stiffness and pain can point to serious conditions such as brain aneurysm, hemorrhage, or stroke.
Interestingly, a fever is one of the body’s natural defense mechanism against infections. Raising the core body temperature aims to kill off pathogens and speed up metabolic processes. In the case of viral infections, fever is generally mild and goes away on its own. However, for bacterial infections, higher fevers may occur and do more damage if unmanaged.
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