Fever and headache: causes, symptoms and treatment.


Headaches are common and usually nothing to worry about. But if, in addition to the headache, you have a fever, see your doctor for a correct diagnosis. A combination of high fever and headache can be a sign of a serious infection.

Headache and fever can be a sign of a localized infection in your brain and / or spinal cord that makes up your central nervous system. Specific examples of central nervous system infections include meningitis, encephalitis, or brain abscesses .

Systemic infections or infections throughout the body, such as the flu or early symptoms of HIV , can also cause headaches and fever, as can less common conditions such as bleeding or swelling in the brain .

At the same time, sometimes a headache and fever are signs of a common viral infection that simply needs to be overcome. Here we investigate both infectious and non-infectious causes of headache and fever.

On the other hand, it's important to note that while knowledge can be enriching, it can be complex and subtle to distinguish between what is serious and what is not, so be sure to monitor your headache and fever with a doctor.

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In addition to the severe general headache and high fever, symptoms of meningitis can include a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, a rash, and / or sensitivity to light. However, a person generally does not have all of these symptoms, and therefore a medical examination is crucial.

Most people with meningitis will have a stiff neck . A stiff neck means that a person cannot bend their neck, so they cannot touch their chest with their chin.

Other potential symptoms of meningitis include a rash, joint pain, seizures, or other neurological disorders .

To make a diagnosis, a person with suspected meningitis will have a lumbar puncture, also known as a lumbar puncture. During a lumbar puncture, the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is tested to determine if there is an infection and, if so, what type of infection .

In addition, a person with suspected meningitis also usually undergoes laboratory tests, including a blood culture and a white blood cell count (white blood cells are infection-fighting cells in the body). Generally, you will follow a treatment plan. There is also a popular meningitis vaccine for prevention.


Encephalitis is an infection of the central nervous system that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. Encephalitis is similar to meningitis, but the key difference is that encephalitis causes brain dysfunction in humans.

This means that the person will have a mental disorder, problems with movement or sensory functions, even paralysis (although this is not usually the case with meningitis). Because the two are difficult to distinguish, doctors sometimes use the term meningoencephalitis .

Brain abscess

A brain abscess is a rare but life-threatening condition in which infected fluid builds up in the brain. Symptoms of a brain abscess can mimic those of meningitis or encephalitis and include fever, headache, stiff neck, neurological dysfunction, and confusion.

Brain abscess headaches and confusion are the result of increased intracranial pressure due to the accumulation of infected fluid in the brain as it continues to grow and take up space .

The diagnosis of a brain abscess is confirmed by a computed tomography (CT) scan of the brain, which classically shows a mass with an enlarging ring.

Patients are treated with antibiotics given through a vein and sometimes with surgical drainage of the abscess. Clearance of the infection is usually documented by serial CT scans and can take weeks to months .

Sinus infection

Headache and sinus fever, in addition to many other possible symptoms such as facial pain or swelling, earache, toothache, and a thick nasal discharge, can indicate a bacterial sinus infection.

The good news is that if you have bacterial sinusitis, a week or so of antibiotics, rest, fluids, and steam should clear it up quickly. Very rarely, sinus infections lead to other complications such as brain abscesses, meningitis, blood clots, etc. or osteomyelitis , an infection of the facial bones (especially the forehead).

If you've been diagnosed with a sinus infection, be sure to talk to your doctor if a fever persists while taking antibiotics .

Infections of the whole body

A systemic infection or a whole-body infection, such as influenza , commonly known as the "flu," or infectious mononucleosis , often called "kissing disease" or mononucleosis, can cause fever and headaches, as well as other systemic infections. like HIV or AIDS .

There are usually other clues to help doctors confirm a systemic infection. For example, if you have the flu, you usually have body aches and coughs, in addition to headaches and fever. If you have mononucleosis, you will have a sore throat and will test positive for monospot, a rapid test used to diagnose infectious mononucleosis.

Finally, it is important to understand that with a systemic infection, symptoms other than fever can occur, such as weight loss, night sweats, and / or fatigue or malaise.

Non-infectious causes

In addition to infections, other illnesses can cause headaches and fever and affect the entire body. These include a number of rheumatic diseases such as:

There are also rare but very serious causes of headache and fever, such as a subarachnoid hemorrhage , pituitary stroke, or a brain tumor .

For example, a subarachnoid hemorrhage (causing bleeding in the brain) can cause a thunderclap headache, a sharp, severe, "thunderclap" headache. Subarachnoid hemorrhage headache is usually sudden, explosive, unilateral, and is associated with nausea, vomiting, changes in mental status, and neck stiffness. Sometimes fever may appear.

Of course, there are diseases that resemble headaches . However, only a healthcare provider can make this decision after evaluating you and requesting the necessary brain imaging.

A thunderclap headache can be a serious, life-threatening illness, so seek help immediately by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room.

Get the word of drug information

While it may happen that you have a mild illness and need fluids and antipyretic medications for headaches and fever, it is important to be safe and consult a doctor. Fever and headache can be a potentially serious combination, so be careful and check it out.

Frequently asked questions

  • Several conditions can present with headache and fever. This includes:

    • Brain abscess (rare)
    • Brain tumor (rare)
    • Encephalitis
    • Giant cell arteritis
    • HIV
    • Flu
    • Meningitis
    • Mononucleosis
    • Lupus
    • Osteomyelitis
    • Pituitary apoplexy (rare)
    • Sinus infection
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Subarachnoid hemorrhage (rare)

  • Usually a migraine does not cause a fever. With migraines, fever is possible, but this is rare.

  • Headache and fever can be symptoms of a more serious medical condition. If you have a headache and fever, call your doctor to see if you need to be tested. If your headache is severe, you have a fever or after hours, and antipyretic and headache medications are not giving you relief, go to the emergency room.

A guide to talking about headaches with a doctor

Get our printable guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

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