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Why Do We Shiver?

Certain medicines can cause a drop in body temperature, which causes us to shiver.
A fever can also affect our body temperature and will cause us to shiver.
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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 March 2014
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The human body has many amazing systems that help keep us running smoothly through various conditions. Our body has homeostatic functions that automatically monitor, adjust and regulate our important systems without our even knowing it. Breathing, heart rate, weight regulation and blood pressure are all regulated subconsciously. Shivering is just one of these homeostatic functions our body employs to regulate our body temperature. Also called thermoregulatory shivering, we shiver in an effort to keep ourselves warm.

Our brain both consciously and subconsciously detects cold simultaneously through different sensory systems, which prompts the body to shiver — the sensory system that prompts the shiver isn’t the same as our conscious detection of cold. Our body attempts to maintain our core temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees C), despite ambient temperature. In an attempt to avoid hypothermia where our body temperature is lowered to dangerous levels, our muscles are prompted to contract and expand quickly, resulting in a shiver. This in turn produces more heat in the skeletal muscles to provide extra warmth to our organs. It does use a lot of energy, and severe shivering is a last resort in an attempt to stay warm. Along with shivering, your teeth may chatter due to tightening jaw muscles.

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In some cases, we shiver after having anesthesia, because the drugs and medication affects the body’s ability to regulate our temperature. This may result in a drop in our core body temperature, and we shiver to compensate. It is usually a transitory side affect, and should resolve in less than an hour.

Those suffering with a fever may also shiver and shake with chills. Although they may have a temperature above 98.6 degrees, the “set point” of the body’s temperature has been raised by the brain by the onset of a fever. This prompts the body to do things to make it warmer. Shivering when you have a fever creates more heat as it would in the cold, thus, elevating your body’s temperature even more.

Shivering is just another way our body works to maintain itself — take it as a clue to get out of the cold or add another layer. Remember also that as we age, our sensory systems have a decreased ability to identify changes in temperature and respond accordingly. Elderly people should rely less on our body’s automatic response systems, and more on common sense in extreme cold, or heat.

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Discuss this Article

anon940000
Post 14

Why would a man shiver if he doesn't have any disorders or drinks alcohol.

anon353010
Post 12

Why do we shiver on listening, seeing and hearing about touching stories or events?

anon243627
Post 11

Sometimes when I listen to music or watch/ see something that's really amazing, massive, or cool I just shiver. Why?

anon176655
Post 10

my question is can a paralyzed subject shiver? i would appreciate an explanation.

anon163076
Post 9

Please tell me why do people shiver when they are nervous or frightened?

anon148616
Post 8

why do I shiver every time I twist my ankle? and I feel a certain dizziness?

anon79787
Post 6

I keep getting shivers when I'm warm. They aren't the same as when i feel cold, they give me headaches and leave me without energy. is there anything to worry about?

anon46708
Post 4

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is 37 degrees Celsius, not 39.6.

Moderator's reply: You are right and the article has been corrected to reflect the change. Thank you for catching this and for participaing in the wiseGEEK discussion forums!

anon42652
Post 3

What is the name of the group of people who are born without the ability to shiver?

anon28931
Post 2

What are people called that do not shiver?

mendocino
Post 1

Most mammals have been observed to shiver, except whales. Shivering is an involuntary heat-producing movement.

Whales do not shiver because they have a very efficient thermo regulatory system, that keeps their body temperature even, whether they are in warm tropical waters, or in icy Arctic waters. The thick layer of blubber, that can be as much as 20 inches thick, protects them from extreme temperatures.

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