How does a single degree(C°) make such a large difference when it comes to fevers?


How does a single degree(C°) make such a large difference when it comes to fevers?

In: Biology

Lots of natural processes are substantially affected by small differences in temperature. Water won’t freeze at 1C, but will freeze at 0C, for example.

It might seem odd that small changes can make such a big difference, since a difference of one degree in the air temperature doesn’t usually feel like a huge difference. But, consider that part of the reason one degree doesn’t usually feel like a lot is because your body has a ton of mechanisms that are working 24/7 to keep your core body temperature where it needs to be, compensating for whatever temperature swings are happening around you. If you didn’t have your body’s internal heating and cooling systems, trust me, one degree Celsius would feel like a huge difference.. Life and death, even.


Your body loves a consistent internal environment, everything from vitamin levels to sugars to body temperature. When you raise the temperature, it affects other things. If someone hides a pickle in your cake, it makes the whole cake gross. When your body temperature raises, the rest of your body has to deal with that.

Now a single degree isn’t much in the short term (1-2 hours) but if you expose your body to that degree for 8, 10, even 24 hours it will start to break down proteins. You can pass your finger through fire for just a second, but if you hold your finger over the flame it will eventually burn.

Hope this helps!

Because at one temperature your brain is just hot, but at one degree hotter, your brain starts to cook. Cooked parts of brain do not work any more, and non-working parts of brain can lead to, well, permanent vegetative state, death, etc.

That’s a true answer, but, really, you’re making a philosophical mistake. You can think that one degree is not that much, but sometimes one degree is a lot. Plenty of things have a boundary, and you can always get *right up against that boundary* so that one more whatever means a lot. There’s a point where you remain standing on a roof, but one millimeter farther and you plummet off the roof to death or serious injury. The fact that a millimeter is usually thought of as a small distance doesn’t matter. And you could substitute “inch” or “foot” for millimeter and it’s the same thing. Once you cross the boundary, you have crossed it, whether you did it by a little or a lot.

Also, on a cellular scale, one millimeter is huge (obviously). One degree is small when you think about an oven (would you buy an oven that only makes your food one degree hotter?), but with body temperatures, one degree is generally a significant amount. If you’re just one degree hotter than you usually are, that is probably enough information to verify that you are ill. There is nothing that makes one degree, or one millimeter, inherently small.

There’s two really good visuals to keep in mind when thinking about your body’s temp: scrambled eggs & ice cubes.

First ice cubes. When you freeze water it has to be at 0° C. We know that even at 1° pure water doesn’t freeze under normal conditions.

Next is scrambled eggs. When you cook eggs they start out liquid. Once you apply heat and cook them though, you can’t reliquify them. That’s because the protein in them fundamentally changes shape and can’t morph back.

When you combine those two concepts in your body you get a rough look at the importance of temp. stability. One degree is enough to permanently cook and change the shapes (thus function) of various proteins within your body. If enough time passes and enough of those proteins change, vital functions will be disrupted and you will eventually die.

Inside most of the cells in your body there are chemical reactions going on, keeping you alive and functioning. For you to function properly these reactions need to be done as fast as possible, and your body is able to do that, but only at a very small and specific range of temperature, roughly 37°c.

Why this is:
1. As you might already know, the hotter something is, the faster chemical reactions can take place. So if the body gets too cold then your cells aren’t able to perform these essential reactions quickly enough, and you die.

2. Another thing that can speed up chemical reactions are catalysts. These are just special chemicals that generally speed up one particular type of reaction. Your body has catalysts too, called enzymes. The thing about enzymes is that if they get too hot then they begin to break down and stop working.

So your body has to sit in that sweet spot of core temperature of 37°+- where the enzymes won’t cease to function but it’s also as hot as possible to speed up reactions kinetically.