What causes chills?

Chills are caused by a wide variety of infectious diseases, some of which are common, such as the flu. In some cases, chills can be due to an inflammatory condition, such as an allergic reaction, or an autoimmune disease, such as lupus. Chills and fever can accompany certain cancers as well.

Chills may also be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting, such as hypothermia, which is an abnormally low body temperature.

Common infectious causes of chills

Chills can be associated with many different types of infections, such as:

  • Appendicitis

  • Bacterial gastroenteritis (food poisoning) or viral gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”)

  • Bronchitis

  • Common cold

  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon)

  • Ear infection

  • Infectious mononucleosis

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

  • Pneumonia

  • Strep throat

  • Urinary tract infection, especially a kidney infection (pyelonephritis)

Other infectious causes of chills

Other infectious causes of chills include:

  • Abscess (collection of pus in the skin, brain, liver, kidney or other organ)

  • AIDS

  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)

  • Chest infection

  • Endocarditis (inflammation and possibly infection of the lining inside the heart)

  • Kidney infection

  • Malaria

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)

  • Septic or infectious arthritis

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

  • Tuberculosis (serious infection affecting the lungs and other organs)

Inflammatory causes of chills

Chills can also be caused by inflammatory conditions including:

  • Allergic reaction

  • Blood transfusion reaction

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Malignant causes of chills

Chills can also be caused by malignant conditions including:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of chills

To diagnose the underlying cause of chills, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you questions about your symptoms. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of chills by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • How long have you had the chills?

  • Have you had a fever? If so, how high was the fever?

  • Have you been exposed to cold temperatures or cold water without proper protection or clothing?

  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of chills?

Chills are usually a sign of an infectious or inflammatory process. In some cases, chills can be associated with a serious or life-threatening condition, such as meningitis or hypothermia. It is important to contact your health care provider promptly when you experience chills. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan you and your health care provider design specifically for you can help reduce potential complications including:

  • Brain damage from an extremely high fever

  • Dehydration due to reduced fluid intake, fever, and increased sweating

  • Dehydration due to diarrhea or vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Shock, coma and organ failure


  1. Chills.  Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003091.htm.
  2. Patient information. Fever in children (beyond the basics). Wolters Kluwer Health. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/fever-in-children-beyond-the-basics

What are chills?

Having chills refers to feeling excessively cold, even when you are wearing warm clothing or are wrapped in blankets. When you have the chills, you may also be shivering or look pale.

... Read more about chillsintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with chills?

Chills are often a sign of fever, which can be caused by a wide variety of infections. Chills can also be caused by hypothermia and other conditions. Chills often occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Symptoms may occur along with chills

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 1, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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