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Why Does the Body Sweat When You're Sick?
Medically Reviewed by Vikas Patel, MD.
March 17, 2022

Why do we sweat when we have a fever? 

While our bodies have many ways to warm itself, sweat is the main way for the body to cool itself down.

Essentially, with a fever chemicals are triggered that release sweat to try to quickly cool the body back down. 

Why the Body Sweats

First up, sweat is critical for survival - to keep our internal temperature regulated.

This is thermoregulation, the process by which sweat helps the body to keep its internal temperature controlled. [1]

While our bodies have many ways to warm itself, sweat is the only way for the body to cool itself down.

Luckily, we can help lower our internal thermostat out by:  

Cool fact, sweating releases heat from the body ten times faster than a resting body can heat itself up! [2]

This means that sweating is a powerful tool the body uses to quickly get rid of heat and maintain a regular temperature.

All to say -  when we get sick - a fever raises our internal temperature and sweat is the way the body cools itself back down. 

Fever Sweating

A healthy person’s body tries to maintain a temperature around 98.6 degrees, although their temperature naturally fluctuates a little throughout the day (usually by .9 degrees).[3] 

This, of course, changes with fever. 

Humans usually develop a fever in response to infection, inflammation, or trauma.

Fever can be defined as an adaptive response of the body to infection (or inflammation) in which the body increases its internal temperature above the usual 98.6 degrees.

Once a person’s body starts the fever process it releases chemical messengers called pyrogens into the bloodstream. Pyrogens are part of the immune system and, through a complex chemical process, cause a person’s body to raise in temperature.[1]

Once a person has a fever they will often experience symptoms:

WHAT ARE COLD SWEATS? 

A person with a fever will also experience heat generating mechanisms like skin vasoconstriction (blood vessels constricting) which leads to chills and goosebumps, shivering, and a desire to be warm.[1]

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A FEVER BREAKS? 

Once a fever runs its course, the body needs to lower its core temperature.

Cue fever sweating.

Sweating is the body’s only way to cool down so people who are recovering from a fever often experience sweating as a part of that process.[1]

Fever sweating may not be fun - but it’s actually a healthy response your body has to take care of itself.

WHEN TO SPEAK TO A DOCTOR

Excessive sweating that isn’t related to primary hyperhidrosis or fever (due to an infection or injury) can be a sign of something more serious.

Certain diseases and conditions can cause secondary hyperhidrosis.

Secondary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating that is caused by an underlying issue.

Some medications can also cause secondary hyperhidrosis.[4]

It is wise to seek medical assistance if you suspect that you may have secondary hyperhidrosis, a high or long-term fever, or experience excessive sweating accompanied by pallor and diaphoresis.

Sources
  1. Ogoina, D. (2011). Fever, fever patterns and diseases called ‘fever’ – A review. Journal of Infection and Public Health, 4(3), 108-124. doi:10.1016/j.jiph.2011.05.002 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21843857/
  2. Schmidt, K. D., & Chan, C. W. (1992). Thermoregulation and Fever in Normal Persons and in Those With Spinal Cord Injuries. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 67(5), 469-475. doi:10.1016/S0025-6196(12)60394-2 Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)60394-2/fulltext
  3. Del Bene, V. E. (1990). Temperature. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations. Retrieved March 3, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK331/
  4. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co., 2014. Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/books/hyperhidrosis-an-issue-of-dermatologic-clinics/pariser/978-0-323-32607-0
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