What is shivering?
Exposure to cold or rapid shifts in temperature usually causes uncontrollable shivering. However, many other possible causes can cause shivering or chills. An uncontrollable shivering that persists for a longer time may indicate an underlying illness that requires immediate medical attention.
Shivering may be due to the following causes:
- If the body is exposed to cold temperature for a longer time
- Sepsis or other types of infection
- Low blood sugar level
Severe shivering can also cause rigors, which the body uses to increase its core temperature. Moreover, fever may or may not be accompanied by shivering.
If a cold has caused shivering, then it necessary to warm yourself up to help stop shivering. However, when shivering is caused by certain underlying conditions such as an abnormal thyroid function, diabetes, or anemia, such conditions must be addressed first. Some people may experience uncontrollable shivering due to a panic attack. When their panic attack subsides, shivering stops.
Below are some of the common causes of shivering and the reasons why the body shakes involuntarily.
15 Causes of Shivering With or Without Fever
1. Low Blood Sugar Levels
Uncontrollable shivering can be caused by low blood sugar levels. Shivering, in this case, is accompanied by a headache, dizziness, sweating, and rapid heartbeat. When people with diabetes take their insulin shot and forget to eat food or eat less food, they may end up having excessive insulin in their blood, which can lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
Other reasons for hypoglycemia are:
- Alcohol abuse
- Low carbohydrate intake
- Skipping meals
When people with diabetes have low blood sugar levels, it can cause their body to uncontrollably shiver or shake. However, people without diabetes may also experience low blood sugar levels and uncontrollable shaking due to excessive alcohol intake, taking certain herbal supplements, and too much exercise.
It is recommended to eat small frequent meals throughout the day to help prevent a drop in the blood sugar level and prevent episodes of uncontrollable shaking from happening.
You may experience chills at the start of an infection. In fact, one of the first signs of any infection is sudden uncontrollable shaking or chills. Some people experience shaking when they have pneumonia, which includes other symptoms such as persistent coughing, fatigue, and breathing problems.
If an individual experiences severe shivering, it could indicate an infection with malaria parasites. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of malaria could appear after a year of going to a malaria endemic area. The term used when referring to an initial malarial attack is the “cold stage”, which makes the body uncontrollably shiver. Other symptoms of the infection are headaches, sweating, vomiting, and fever.
A respiratory tract infection can also cause shivering along with fever. It is usually caused by either bacteria or viruses that cause swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes. The infection may be accompanied by uncontrollable shivering, chest pain, coughs, and breathing problems.
3. Being Cold
Most people uncontrollably shiver when they are exposed to extreme cold temperatures for a long period of time. When the body's temperature drops, the brain sends a signal to the muscles, which causes them to shake. Through shivering, more heat is generated. While it is common to shiver from time to time, uncontrollable shivering could also indicate hypothermia. Shivering is a common symptom of hypothermia. The symptoms associated with hypothermia are increased heart rate and breathing, dizziness, confusion, and nausea.
Shivering will also increase as hypothermia increases. Shivering will eventually stop as hypothermia gets more serious. Even older people are prone to hypothermia even with a slight drop in temperature. Thus, it has been recommended by the National Institute on Aging that during winter time, the homes where elderly people live should have a thermostat of 68-70°F.
It is possible to increase the core body temperature and stop shivering by drinking warm beverages, putting warm layers of clothes, and staying nearby a heat source.
4. Fluid Loss
Although rare, adults can also experience uncontrollable shaking due to dehydration. Other symptoms accompanied with it are muscle cramps, nausea, dark-colored urine, and headaches.
Having anemia is another reason for shivering without fever. When people have an iron deficiency, it affects their body in different ways. Being iron-deficient can also make people always feeling tired along with having frequent headaches. An individual who has an iron deficiency is also more prone to infections.
Anemia is a condition wherein there is a lack of red blood cells that carry oxygen to different body tissues. Anemia can be due to insufficient iron-rich foods in one's daily diet or when a person has a vitamin B12 deficiency.
6. Common Cold or Flu
Uncontrollable shivering could be a sign that the body is fighting against infections caused by common colds, flu, and other types of diseases.
One of the first symptoms of flu is a period of chills and sweats. During this time, the fever comes and goes. Other symptoms associated with it are muscle pain, fatigue, and cough. Shivering may or may not occur depending on the severity of the flu symptoms.
Some may experience the symptoms for a week while others may take a longer time to recover. If you have flu-like symptoms along with uncontrollable shivering episodes, it is essential that you get plenty of rest to help your body heal faster. Episodes of shivering will stop once you feel better.
7. Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It causes infection and inflammation of the digestive system. Food poisoning can cause rigors as the body tries to fight off the infection.
The signs of food poisoning may appear within hours to weeks after eating contaminated food. Its main symptoms are fever with chills, stomachache, vomiting, and diarrhea. Food poisoning usually lasts for a few days. One natural remedy for food poisoning is ginger. It helps you recover faster since ginger has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps bring down a fever leading to lesser uncontrollable shivering.
8. Certain Drugs
Drug-induced tremors are usually caused by medications for seizures, cancer, and asthma. Immunosuppressants, mood stabilizers, and stimulants such as caffeine and amphetamines can also cause shaking.
9. Urinary Tract Infection
A urinary tract infection may cause intermittent chills. Other UTI symptoms include painful urination and a foul-smelling urine odor. If the infection reaches the kidneys, patients may experience fever along with uncontrollable shivering.
Urinary tract infections are quite common among women. It is important to treat the infection since it can spread to other organs. Mild UTI can be treated with home remedies. According to some studies, recurrent urinary tract infections in women can also be prevented by taking probiotics.
10. Parasitic Infections
Toxoplasmosis is caused by one of the most common parasites in the world called Toxoplasma gondii. Its symptoms include fatigue, swollen glands, fever, recurrent chills, and muscle aches.
Sepsis is a severe infection of the blood. One of the symptoms of sepsis is uncontrollable shivering. It can lead to septic shock and organ failure, which is a life-threatening condition. Other symptoms of sepsis are a fast heartbeat, breathing problems, and a low or high body temperature.
12. Mental Disorder
Poor mental health also causes uncontrollable shivering. When a person is overwhelmed with emotional problems such as panic attacks and anxiety disorders, then shivering without fever may occur. Other signs may be dry mouth, lower body temperature, and nervousness.
13. Spider Bites
The black widow spider and brown recluse spider are venomous. Their bites can also cause allergic reactions, which may persist for days. It can make the person experience uncontrollable shivering with fever, nausea, and vomiting.
14. Abnormal Thyroid Function
In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormones. One of the signs of a thyroid disorder is uncontrollable shivering. Older people may experience rigors due to an underactive thyroid gland, and according to some studies, women are affected more.
15. Panic Attacks
Another cause of uncontrollable shaking with no fever is a panic or an anxiety attack. It can come all of a sudden without an identifiable immediate trigger. A panic attack usually makes a person out of breath, which may be accompanied by chest pain and fear of losing control. The person may also experience chills and trembling.
A panic attack can also be caused by emotional distress or psychological stress. It can cause episodes of severe shivering if anxiety and stress are not controlled or properly managed.
Many essential oils can help soothe the mind and reduce stress levels. Few of the effective essential oils for stress are bergamot, orange, lavender, and chamomile.
Hyperthyroidism can cause uncontrollable shivering. The thyroid gland controls the body's metabolism or the amount of energy that is burned by the body. Hyperthyroidism can cause symptoms such as shivering, cold intolerance, and diarrhea. Although not a common symptom, tremors may also be caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, which is essential for proper nerve function.
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical attention when you experience uncontrollable shivering along with the following signs and symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Fever of more than 103°F