Hyperpyrexia: Everything You Need To Know


Have you ever had a fever that made you feel very sick and uncomfortable? A fever is a sign that your body is fighting an infection or inflammation. It is usually not harmful and goes away on its own or with some medication.

However, sometimes a fever can get too high and cause serious complications. This is called hyperpyrexia, and it is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

What is Hyperpyrexia?

Hyperpyrexia is a condition where the body temperature goes above 106.7 degrees Fahrenheit (41.5 degrees Celsius) due to changes in the hypothalamus — the organ in the brain that regulates temperature.

Hyperpyrexia is different from fever.

Fever is a normal response of the immune system to fight infections or inflammation. It usually does not exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and can be treated with over-the-counter medications or home remedies.

Whereas, Hyperpyrexia is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. It can damage vital organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver. It can also cause seizures, coma, or death if left untreated.

It can be caused by various factors, such as viral or bacterial infections, intracranial hemorrhage, sepsis, anesthesia, or other conditions. We will discuss these later in this article.

Types of Hyperpyrexia

There are two main types:

  • Infectious and,
  • Non-infectious.

Infectious hyperpyrexia is caused by viral or bacterial infections that trigger an immune response and release chemicals called pyrogens that increase the body temperature.

Some examples of infections that can cause hyperpyrexia are meningitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, malaria, and COVID-19.

Non-infectious hyperpyrexia is caused by other factors that affect the hypothalamus or the nervous system and disrupt normal temperature regulation.

Some examples of non-infectious causes are intracranial hemorrhage, brain tumors, stroke, epilepsy, thyroid storm, and malignant hyperthermia.

Symptoms of hyperpyrexia

It can cause various symptoms depending on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition.

Some common symptoms are:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Extreme sweating or lack of sweating
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

In the long term, more severe symptoms may occur, such as:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Dry, hot, and red skin
  • Weak, fast pulse
  • Widened pupils
  • Seizures
  • Organ failure

If you suspect that you or someone else is suffering from high fever, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Hyperpyrexia Causes

It can be caused by many factors that can either increase the production of heat in the body or impair the ability to lose heat.

Some of the common causes are:

1. Infections

Viral or bacterial infections can trigger an immune response that releases pyrogens that raise the body temperature. Some examples are meningitis, pneumonia, typhoid fever, malaria, and COVID-19.

2. Brain injuries

Trauma, bleeding, tumors, stroke, or inflammation in the brain can damage the nervous system. These can affect normal temperature regulation.

3. Sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition where the body’s response to an infection causes widespread inflammation and organ damage.

Sepsis can also increase the production of pyrogens and cause hyperpyrexia.

4. Anesthesia

General anesthesia can interfere with the hypothalamus or the nervous system and cause malignant hyperthermia. It is a rare but serious complication where the muscles contract uncontrollably and generate excessive heat.

5. Drugs

Certain drugs can interfere with the hypothalamus or increase the metabolic rate and generate more heat.

Some examples of drugs that can cause hyperpyrexia are cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy, antipsychotics, or antidepressants.

Also Read: Prescription Drugs vs. Over-the-Counter Drugs: Which Is Right for Your Health?

6. Other diseases

Some diseases that affect the endocrine system, such as thyroid storm or pheochromocytoma, can increase the metabolic rate and produce more heat in the body.

How to diagnose?

symptoms of hyperpyrexia

The diagnosis of hyperpyrexia is based on:

  1. Measuring the body temperature with a reliable thermometer.
  2. Identifying the underlying cause of the fever with blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, or lumbar puncture.
  3. Ruling out other conditions that can cause high fever, such as hyperthermia or heat stroke.

Hyperpyrexia treatment

The treatment depends on the cause and the severity of the condition. The main goal is to lower the body temperature and prevent further complications.

Some of the possible treatments are:

  1. Sponging or bathing in cool water to help lower the body temperature.
  2. Applying ice packs, blowing cool air, or spraying with cool water on the skin.
  3. Removing any tight or extra clothing that may trap heat.
  4. Replacing fluids through drinking or intravenous (IV) hydration to prevent dehydration and restore the balance of minerals in the body.
  5. Take fever-reducing medications, such as dantrolene, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (but not aspirin for children).
  6. Medications, such as antipyretics (fever-reducing drugs), antibiotics (if an infection is present), anticonvulsants (if seizures occur), or antidotes (if drug overdose is suspected).
  7. Oxygen therapy, if breathing is impaired.
  8. Mechanical ventilation, if breathing stops.
  9. Dialysis, if kidney function is compromised.

If you or someone you know has a fever of 106°F (41.1°C) or higher, then seek emergency care immediately. Do not try to treat it at home without professional guidance.

The sooner you get treatment, the better your chances of recovery and survival.

Hyperpyrexia Prevention

It can be prevented by avoiding or treating the factors that can cause it.

Some of the preventive measures include:

  1. Get vaccinated against common infections, such as influenza and meningitis.
  2. Seek medical help if you have signs of infection, such as fever, chills, cough, or sore throat.
  3. Monitor your body temperature if you have a chronic condition that affects your hypothalamus or thyroid gland.
  4. Follow your doctor’s instructions if you are taking psychiatric medications or undergoing anesthesia.
  5. Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and caffeine if you are exposed to high temperatures or humidity.
  6. Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothes and seek shade if you are outdoors in hot weather.

Hyperpyrexia is a serious condition that can have severe consequences if left untreated. If you or someone you know has a very high fever that does not go away with medication, seek medical help right away.

1 thought on “Hyperpyrexia: Everything You Need To Know”

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