By Dr. Sergio López Salamanca
The term “fever” is used to describe body temperature elevated above the normal range. Human body temperature is controlled by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This area of the brain achieves a balance between heat loss and the production of heat in the tissues, especially in muscles. In healthy individuals, this control center maintains the temperature of the internal organs between 37 and 38 degrees Celsius (98.5 and 100.4 °F). Noticeable control mechanisms in individuals include sweating, muscle contractions that occur as shivering, narrowing of the peripheral blood vessels, and increased heart and respiratory rate.
Fever itself is not a disease, but a sign of the presence of an ailment; it is a warning that indicates something beyond functional normality is happening in the body. It is common to relate the presence of fever to the existence of an infection, which is not always correct. Not all infections cause fever, and a fever does not necessarily indicate the existence of an infection. Fever may be a defense response to attack by an infectious microorganism, or it may reflect a response to an inflammatory processes, a tumor, immunological disorder or even environmental situations such as heat stroke or dehydration, especially in children and elderly adults.
Although fever is a bodily response that facilitates the action of the defense mechanisms of the organism to any aggression, it can also cause damage. High temperature causes alteration of organic structures such as proteins, so care should be taken when fever reaches or exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (104 °F), because convulsions, coma or even brain damage may occur.
In the presence of fever is important that the patient rest and not bundle up, to prevent further raising the temperature. His or her room must have adequate ventilation, although sudden temperature changes should be avoided. Apply warm water with a moist sponge or towel on the forehead and chest of the patient, or even have him or her take a bath in warm water. Ensure that the person drinks plenty of fluids.
The administration of medication should always be done under medical supervision; avoid self-medication, because many medications can cause side effects or have other undesirable effects that aggravate the patient’s condition.