Anatomy of a fever

“Humanity has but three great enemies: fever, famine, and war,
and of these by far the greatest, by far the most terrible, is fever.”

– William Osler*
I’m pretty impressed with my self that I remember from a lecture in Biological Psychology at UCSB in 1985 that the hypothalamus is primarily responsible for, among other things which I’ll probably never go into, fevers.
I’ve been at that point in my cold where my temperature fluctuates between fever and chills.  My trusty hypothalamus is resetting my body temperature in an attempt to combat the bacteria (pyrogens) residing somewhere deep inside.   First, let’s say ‘Hello’ to the hypothalamus.  I also say ‘Thanks!’ even though I find this part of being sick rather draining.

“In many respects, the hypothalamus works like a thermostat.  When the set point is raised, the body increases its temperature through both active generation of heat and retaining heat. Vasoconstriction both reduces heat loss through the skin and causes the person to feel cold. If these measures are insufficient to make the blood temperature in the brain match the new setting in the hypothalamus, then shivering begins in order to use muscle movements to produce more heat. When the fever stops, and the hypothalamic setting is set lower; the reverse of these processes (vasodilation, end of shivering and nonshivering heat production) and sweating are used to cool the body to the new, lower setting.”

I wanted to find one of those Educational Films with animated drawings of the hypothalamus.  No dice, but this one does quite nicely, in a bizarre sort of way.

And who are these pyrogens?

Artist: Bob Clarke – Writer: Phil Hahn
From ‘The Portable MAD’

* Called the “Father of Modern Medicine”,  Osler was a multifaceted physician and individual, functioning as a pathologist, internist, educator, bibliophile, historian, author, and renowned practical joker.  Perhaps Osler’s greatest contribution to medicine was to insist that students learn from seeing and talking to patients and the establishment of the medical residency.

I thinks its time for a lie down with a cold washcloth!

Sources – Central Metabolic Control System
CancerHelp UK
Univeristy of Texas Medical School


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