Can Stress Really Cause A Fever?

Regardless of circumstance or time, you can always rely on stress being a part of your life. Even the most zen and calm people on Earth are bound to be confronted with stress at some point or another. While stress is a natural physiological response aimed to protect us against danger, the intricacies of modern-day living have altered the way we perceive and react to stress (via Nature). If stress is left rampant and uncontrolled, it can have many disastrous effects on your overall health and wellbeing. Stress is known to wreak havoc on the body by weakening the immune system and increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, high blood sugar, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, depression, and more (via Healthline).

The year 2020 was difficult for people all across the world. On behalf of the American Psychological Association, The Harris Poll conducted a survey on stress in America in 2020. The findings were not at all surprising, with nearly 78 percent of participants citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a main source of stress in their lives and nearly 20 percent of adults expressing decreased mental health quality compared to the previous year. In addition to stress influencing us psychologically, it also takes a physical toll on the body.

Historically we know when the body is stressed, your heartbeat races, you starting feeling clammy, your muscles start contracting, and your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. But recent findings also show that experiencing physical or emotional stress may actually lead to an increase in your core body temperature (via Handbook of Clinical Neurology).

What is a psychogenic fever?

Under ideal conditions, normal body temperature runs between 97.5 to 98.9 degrees F (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). Typically, a temperature of 100.4 degrees F and higher is considered a fever.

The elevation in body temperature seen as a result of stress is known as a psychogenic fever or stress-induced hyperthermia (via Temperature). In this case, the increase in body temperature can't be attributed to any infectious cause. Acute stress-induced hyperthermia tends to resolve once the stressor has been eliminated. However, in animal studies, exposure to chronic stress led to a prolonged elevated body temperature even once the stressor was eliminated. While the nature of the stressor matters, other factors such as age and sex also play a role, with younger women more likely to experience psychogenic fever.

The mechanism of psychogenic fevers is still poorly understood and it is important to note that the research on this subject is lacking. It's fair to say that more future studies need to be conducted to better understand this phenomenon.