How do you diagnose the cause of a fever?
If you telephone your GP or out of hours service, the healthcare professional will try to work out why your child has a fever. This will usually include asking about your child's health and symptoms.
Your child may need to be examined (a 'face-to-face' consultation). In this case it is most likely that your child's temperature, pulse and breathing will be checked. Your child will be checked for lack of fluid in the body (dehydration) and their blood pressure may be taken. A urine sample may be tested. Rarely, an ambulance may be called. This does not necessarily mean your child is very ill, only that they need to be assessed quickly in hospital.
It may be decided that you can carry on looking after your child at home; you may be given a number to contact if you need more advice or you may be asked to take the child for a check-up the next day.
What further tests are possible?
Often, the healthcare professional who assesses your child will decide that no further tests are necessary. This is usually because there are no worrying signs in your child's condition and your doctor or nurse feels able to diagnose the infection, based on their training and experience.
Occasionally, however, they are uncertain.
- This may be because your child has some of the 'amber' or 'red' warning signs.
- It may be because a specific, worrying infection such as meningitis is in the community, and your doctor thinks that your child could be affected.
- It may be because your doctor or nurse feels unsure about the diagnosis and thinks that a second opinion and further tests are needed.
If this is the case you may be asked to go to the paediatric ward or Accident and Emergency department. If your child is very unwell an ambulance will be called. However, if that is not the case, and you are able, you may be asked to make your way there by car.
On the ward your child is likely to have several tests done. These will vary, depending on how your child appears and on what the doctors find when they assess and examine your child. They may include:
You may be discharged home from the hospital after this or, if doctors are still not certain that your child is at very low risk of a more serious condition, your child may be kept for observation or treatment.
Further reading and references
Feverish illness in children - Assessment and initial management in children younger than 5 years; NICE Guideline (Updated August 2017)
Feverish child - risk assessment; NICE CKS, September 2013 (UK access only)
Thompson M, Van den Bruel A, Verbakel J, et al; Systematic review and validation of prediction rules for identifying children Health Technol Assess. 2012 Mar16(15):1-100.
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