Psychogenic Fever: What Is it, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
November 2022

A psychogenic fever is a condition characterized by an increase in body temperature that emerges after an emotional or high-stress situation. Many patients report intense heat, excessive sweating and a headache with this type of fever. It is often triggered by anxiety, mental disorders, and physical conditions like fibromyalgia. 

Children may experience psychogenic fever with changes to routine, for example. 

Psychogenic fevers are not easily diagnosed. The doctor may order testing to rule out other conditions. Treatment usually involves the management of any underlying triggers, like anxiolytics for panic attacks, for instance.

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Main symptoms

A psychogenic fever is usually caused by a stressful situation that causes an increase in body temperature over 37°C (or 98.6ºF). The most common symptoms of a psychogenic fever include: 

  • Feeling intense heat
  • Red face
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia 

These symptoms may not all appear at once, however if they emerge and last for over 48 hours, you should seek urgent medical attention. The doctor will assess for the possible causes, which are often associated with other illnesses, like infections or inflammations. 

Possible causes

Psychogenic fevers are a response from brain cells that are put under stress. It causes body temperature to increase from 37ºC (or 98.6ºF) to 40ºC (or 104ºF). With this body temperature, blood vessels become constricted, which causes redness in the face and an increase in heart rate. 

These symptoms often occur due to stressful, day-to-day situations (like talking at a work meeting), traumatic events (like the loss of a family member) or even mental disorders (like PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder or a panic attack). 

A sudden and dramatic increase in body temperature can also be caused by stress and anxiety from a chronic illness, like fibromyalgia. 

Who experiences psychogenic fevers 

Psychogenic fevers can occur in anyone. Children can get psychogenic fevers due to specific development stages and milestones, like going to daycare and being separated from their parents for the first time, losing a loved one or changes to routine. 

Treatment options 

A psychogenic fever causes an increase in temperature that is usually temporary and resolves on its own. It can last for months, however, if it is triggered by continuous stress. In these cases, the fever can be treated with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.

After this condition is diagnosed, the doctor can initiate the most appropriate treatment. It may involves the use anxiolytic medication to relieve stress and anxiety, and antidepressants to treat depression. Psychological therapy may also be recommended to help the patient understand why they feel so stressed and anxious. 

Engaging in relaxation and breathing activities, like yoga and meditation, can also help to treat a psychogenic fever. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in November 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in November 2022.

References

  • UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DE MINAS GERAIS. Equipe do ICB identifica grupos neuronais associados à febre emocional. Available on: <https://ufmg.br/comunicacao/noticias/equipe-do-icb-identifica-grupos-neuronais-associados-a-febre-emocional>. Access in 23 Dec 2019
  • OKA, Takakazu. Psychogenic fever: how psychological stress affects body temperature in the clinical population. Temperature (Austin). Vol.2, n.3. 368-378, 2015
Show more references
  • OKA, Takakazu. Stress-induced hyperthermia and hypothermia. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. Vol. 157. 599-621, 2018
  • MACHADO, Natalia L.S. et al. A Glutamatergic Hypothalamomedullary Circuit Mediates Thermogenesis, but Not Heat Conservation, during Stress-Induced Hyperthermia. Current Biology. Vol.28, n.14. 2291-2301, 2018
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.