A flushed worried-looking man standing there shivering with a thermometer in his mouth.

RA and Stress: A Random Fever

I’ve been really stressed out lately. There have been so many things going on, and the general chaos of life has taken such a toll on my body.

Between juggling different work commitments, graduate school and fellowship applications, changes in my personal and work life, I’ve been under so much stress that I’ve been neglecting my body and how it’s been responding to these changes. This includes exercising when my body is telling me not to, eating poorly when I should be eating healthier, and working more than necessary.

The essential byline for this period of life has been: I haven’t been listening to myself, my condition, nor my body. And a recent experience that I’ve had put that into perspective for me.

Fever symptoms after a long and busy day

This past Monday, I had an exceptionally long day at work. Meetings after meetings after meetings, in addition to having a rheumatologist appointment and agreeing to get coffee with a friend. Coming home, I fell on my bed, and my body felt as heavy as a bag of bricks. I couldn’t do anything else for the rest of the night except for laying in bed. After about an hour or so, I began feeling very sick: my back was beginning to ache, a cold sweat starting breaking out over my body, and I felt very fatigued.

It was a low-grade fever

Recognizing these warning signs, I walked over to my bathroom to take my temperature. The digital thermometer flashed back a number that confirmed what I was feeling: a 99.7 degree fever. Given that this was a low-grade fever, I took two ibuprofen, drank a glass of water, and went right to sleep. And to my surprise, I felt completely normal the next morning. Not a fever or ache in sight.

Experiencing fever symptoms prior to my RA diagnosis

Now, this is not the first time that something like this has happened to me. Before being officially diagnosed with RA—and therefore before being treated for RA—there were multiple nights where I would go to sleep with similar symptoms as I’ve described above, particularly the fever and aches. It always felt like I had the flu (or, at least, flu-like symptoms).

Were recurring fevers a sign of RA disease activity?

It was only after I got diagnosed that my rheumatologist informed me that these recurring fevers were actually signs that my RA was active and that my body was responding to the high markers of inflammation in my body. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but in the moment, I had no idea why I was having these recurring spells of fever and aches. It was quite a scary time.

Do fever symptoms mean that my RA medications aren't working?

What particularly perturbs me about this instance is that I’m on medication for RA and have been since October 2018. I know I've been under a lot of stress lately, and I'm fairly certain that's what has caused this most recent incident, but this is the first time since starting my medication that this spell has happened again.

Accepting the unpredictability of RA

It brings to the surface all of these anxious questions: “Am I about to experience more pain?” “Are my medications not working anymore?” “Will I always have to live under the constant threat of a spell like this?”

Most of these questions stem from having a chronic illness as unpredictable as RA. I never know what RA is going to throw my way anymore, and I’m learning to accept that. Not that that makes it any easier.


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