Fever in Adults: Signs & Symptoms

Woman with fever

How does fever present in adults?

A fever is temporary as the body temperature rises due to an infection or any other secondary cause. It is a sign that something is going on within the body that needs to be investigated.

Usually, adults with a fever may feel uncomfortable and it is not much of a concern unless the temperature reaches 103°F or higher.


  • Symptoms of fever in adults include sweating, chills and shivering, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, irritability, dehydration, and a sense of general weakness.

    Other symptoms would depend on the cause of the fever. Some examples are:

    Cause Symptoms
    Dysentery or gastroenteritis
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea (with or without presence of blood)
    Upper respiratory tract infection
    • Cough
    • Runny nose
    • Sore throat
    • Sinus or nasal congestion

    Urinary tract infection

    • Painful urination
    • Back pain
    • Increased frequency in urination
    Skin or soft tissue infection
    • Focus of infection like a rash or abscess
  • Women with fever

    Adults with fever must be referred for immediate medical attention if there is accompanying:

    • severe headache
    • unusual skin rash
    • unusual sensitivity to bright light
    • stiff neck or if there is pain when they bend the head forward
    • mental confusion
    • persistent vomiting
    • difficulty in breathing or chest pain
    • abdominal pain
    • convulsions or seizures
  • Doctor and patient

    Immune status

    • Is the patient immunocompromised (eg, as a result of leukemia, chemotherapy, steroid use, HIV infection, or liver disease)?

    Medical history

    • Does the patient have a history of prior medical illnessess or conditions?
    • Patients with a known illness may have a fever caused by their underlying illness (eg, tumor fever from lymphoma or a fever from a lupus flare). However, these are diagnoses of exclusion because infectious causes must first be considered and ruled out. Relatedly, some illnesses predispose patients to infectious complications (eg, abdominal abscess as a complication of Crohn’s disease and endocarditis in a patient with an aortic valve replacement).

    Medication history

    • Is the patient taking prescription or over-the-counter medications?
    • The medication history should be aimed at discovering drugs that cause immunosuppression (eg, steroids) or those that may result in drug fever (eg, neuroleptics, anticholinergics, anesthetics, antibiotics).

    Social history

    • What is the patient’s travel history?
    • Is there a history of injection drug use or other HIV risk factors?
    • What is the patient’s sexual history?
    • Does the patient have pets or frequent animal contact?
    • What are his or her occupation and hobbies?
    • This information may lead to expanding the differential diagnosis to include diseases common in the developing world, HIV-related infections, sexually transmitted infections, tick-borne illnesses, endemic fungal disease, complications such as endocarditis that are common in injection drug users, and so on.

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