Low-Grade Fever - Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

Low-Grade Fever

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Introduction

What is low-grade fever?

A fever is an increase in the body temperature above normal. A low-grade fever is a mild elevation of the temperature above normal. Your temperature measurements fluctuate through the day and vary depending upon the site of measurement. Generally, a child is considered to have a fever if the temperature is at or above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit rectally, 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit orally, or 99 degrees Fahrenheit in the armpit. In an adult, a fever is generally defined as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) or greater

Fevers often accompany infections and are part of your body’s natural defense against them. Body temperature can also be elevated by physical activity and environmental factors, such as wearing heavy clothing or a high ambient temperature. A low-grade fever may also occur following immunizations, during teething, or as a symptom of cancer or inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. It can also occur as a side effect of some medications.

Low-grade fevers may not require treatment if other symptoms are absent. Self-care measures, such as rest and drinking fluids, may be enough. Medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and aspirin, can all lower a fever, although aspirin should not be used for children, and ibuprofen is not recommended for infants under six months of age.

Persistent fevers or high fevers may require medical intervention, as may those accompanied by such symptoms as sore throat, earache, cough, or burning with urination. Fevers can be serious in people who have weakened immune systems or who have chronic medical problems.

Low-grade fevers can occasionally accompany serious medical conditions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as irritability or inconsolability in children, confusion, decreased levels of consciousness, difficulty breathing, difficulty walking, severe pain, neck rigidity, seizure, blue coloration of the lips or nails, or rapid heart rate.

If your low-grade fever is persistent or causes you concern, if you have other symptoms of infection, a weakened immune system, or have chronic medical problems, seek prompt medical care.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with low-grade fever?

Low-grade fever may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Conditions that frequently affect your temperature may also involve other systems.

Infection symptoms that may occur along with low-grade fever

Low-grade fever may accompany other symptoms of infection including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with low-grade fever

Low-grade fever may accompany other symptoms including:

  • Decreased appetite

  • Ear pulling in children

  • Easy bleeding or bruising

  • Feeling hot without sweating

  • Joint deformity and reduced range of motion

  • Morning stiffness

  • Skin nodules

  • Swelling

  • Swollen lymph nodes

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, low-grade fever may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

Causes

What causes low-grade fever?

Fevers often accompany infections. Body temperature can be elevated by physical activity and environmental factors, such as wearing heavy clothing or a high ambient temperature. A low-grade fever may also occur following immunizations, during teething, or as a symptom of cancer or inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. It can also occur as side effect of some medications.

Infectious causes of low-grade fever

Low-grade fever may be caused by infections including:

Other causes of low-grade fever

Low-grade fever can also be caused by conditions including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of low-grade fever

In some cases, low-grade fever may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Acute hepatitis (active infection of the liver)

  • Appendicitis

  • Cancers

  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)

  • Epiglottitis (life-threatening inflammation and swelling of the epiglottis, a tissue flap between the tongue and windpipe)

  • Heat exhaustion

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of low-grade fever

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your low-grade fever including:

  • How long have you had a low-grade fever?

  • Does it come and go, or is it constant?

  • Does anything make it go away?

  • Do you have any chronic medical problems or a weakened immune system?

  • Have you traveled recently?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of low-grade fever?

Because low-grade fever can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment if it is persistent or accompanied by concerning symptoms, or if you have chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system, can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)

  • Brain damage

  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)

  • Heat stroke

  • Peritonitis (infection of the lining that surrounds the abdomen)

  • Physical disability

  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)

  • Shock

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Nov 5
  1. Fever. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003090.htm.
  2. Fever. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/503.html.
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