Why do We Shiver?

O. Wallace

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.

Certain medicines can cause a drop in body temperature, which causes us to shiver.
Certain medicines can cause a drop in body temperature, which causes us to shiver.

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.

A fever can also affect our body temperature and will cause us to shiver.
A fever can also affect our body temperature and will cause us to shiver.

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.

Hypothermia is a condition characterized by a drop in body temperature, usually due to exposure to cold weather.
Hypothermia is a condition characterized by a drop in body temperature, usually due to exposure to cold weather.

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.

Mild hypothermia may cause shivering and an increased heart rate.
Mild hypothermia may cause shivering and an increased heart rate.

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.

In cold weather, the body will shiver to keep itself warm.
In cold weather, the body will shiver to keep itself warm.

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Discussion Comments

anon940000

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

anon353010

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

anon243627

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

anon176655

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

anon163076

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

anon148616

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

anon79787

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

98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is 37 degrees Celsius, not 39.6.

anon42652

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

anon28931

What are people called that do not shiver?

mendocino

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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