Uncontrollable shivering is characterized by the rapid shifting between muscle relaxation and contraction. It is through these contractions that the body warms itself up when exposed to cold. Shivering is not always accompanied by fever. In some cases, shivering may occur before the onset of fever, particularly if an infection is causing the fever. Sometimes, uncontrollable shivering occurs without a high fever.
Uncontrollable shivering can be caused by any of the following conditions:
1. Cold Exposure
When you are outside on a cold day or when you are in a pool or ocean, you may experience shivers. Shivering indoors is also possible, especially when the air conditioning is set to a very low temperature. When your clothes get wet or become damp, you will also feel cold and shiver.
People tend to have difficulty regulating their body temperature as they age, especially if they have certain medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. As the body warms up, shivering usually goes away on its own. However, potentially serious complications, such as frostbite and hypothermia may also develop when you are exposed to intense cold. Their symptoms may include:
- Skin color changes
- Burning or stinging sensation, especially in the toes, fingers, nose, or ears
- Excessive sleepiness
- Slurred or slow speech
If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, seek immediate medical attention.
2. Side Effect of Medications
Certain types of medications, prescription medicine, and over-the-counter medications, including herbal supplements may also cause uncontrollable shivering without fever, especially when they are taken with incorrect dosages. For this reason, it is very important to know the potential side effects of the medications you are taking. Inform your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you experience any side effect from the medications you are taking. You may also need prompt medical attention according to the severity of your condition.
Shivering can also be experienced when the body is fighting bacterial or viral infections, such as:
- Flu: Influenza, also called the flu, is a viral infection that mainly attacks the body's respiratory system. This viral infection is not the same as stomach flu, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. A viral infection like influenza usually resolves on its own without treatment. However, its complications can become fatal. Influenza is also highly contagious and is easily spread through exposure to the sneezes or coughs of a person with the infection.
- Gastroenteritis (Bacterial or Viral): This type of infection targets the stomach and intestines and cause inflammation and irritation in the GI tract. The common causes of gastroenteritis are bacterial and viral infections. Its symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramping, stomach pain, fever, chills, headache, and watery diarrhea.
- Sinusitis: Also called as rhinosinusitis or sinus infection, sinusitis refers to the inflammation of the sinuses. The common symptoms of sinusitis include facial pain, headache, stuffy or clogged nose, and a thick nasal discharge. Its other symptoms may also include a sore throat, cough, fever, and an impaired sense of smell.
- Meningitis: This type of infection affects the meninges that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord. There are also several types of meningitis. It can be viral, bacterial, fungal, or parasitic in origin.
- Strep Throat: This common infection is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, which cause pain and inflammation in the throat. People of all ages can get affected by this bacterial infection. However, children who are 5-15 years old are more susceptible to acquiring this infection.
- Pneumonia: This lung infection causes air sac inflammation in one or both lungs. In this type of infection, the air sacs are filled with pus or fluid and cause respiratory symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, coughing up phlegm, including high fever and chills. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can cause pneumonia.
- Malaria: This disease is transmitted through the bite of an Anopheles mosquito that carries a parasite called Plasmodium. When an infected mosquito bites you, the parasite is injected into your bloodstream and cause disease. This mosquito-borne disease is life-threatening. Its symptoms include recurring chills every 3-4 days.
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): This type of infection occurs when bacteria invade the urinary system. The common symptoms of UTI include a burning sensation when passing urine, frequent or urgent urination, lower abdominal pressure or pain, cloudy or bloody urine, and foul-smelling urine. Fever and chills may also be experienced, particularly if the infection reaches the kidney.
Sepsis is an extreme complication of an infection. Its early symptoms include high or low body temperature, rapid breathing, fast heartbeat, chills or shivering. If sepsis is left untreated, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. In some cases, septic shock or a more severe form of sepsis develops and causes any of the following symptoms:
- Slow or slurred speech
- Disorientation or confusion
- Severe breathlessness
- Extreme muscle pain
- Cold and pale skin
- Shaking chills
- Decreased urine output
When the body does not have the necessary nutrients it needs, malnutrition occurs. Moreover, the body cannot perform its functions properly without the correct balance of nutrients. Malnutrition can happen due to lack of access to healthy and nutritious foods, an eating disorder called anorexia, or a condition that significantly affects the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Malnutrition symptoms may include:
- Pale skin
- Heart palpitations
- Poor concentration
- Numbness or tingling of the extremities or joints
- Heavy menstrual periods, missed periods, or infertility in women
Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid gland. In this condition, the thyroid gland does not make enough hormones that are required to support the metabolism and overall health of the body. Hypothyroidism is also known to cause an increased cold intolerance, which can lead to chills or shivering. A blood test can reveal thyroid gland abnormalities. The condition can be treated with daily medication.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle stiffness or weakness
- Memory problems
- Swollen, puffy face
- Dry hair, skin, and nails
- Unexplained weight gain
Hypoglycemia means abnormally low blood sugar levels. This condition needs immediate treatment to normalize the level of sugar in the blood. Hypoglycemia is also characterized by muscle weakness or a feeling of shakiness similar to chills. Other symptoms of this condition may include:
- Blurred vision
- Heart palpitations
- Tingling sensation around the mouth