When the fever was “friend” of man. It arises from the organism’s struggle against disease, but today it is too often seen as the disease itself – La Stampa


“Give me a fever, and I will cure every disease”: it is a famous phrase attributed to Hippocrates that recalls how the medical concept of fever has undergone profound changes over the centuries.

For the ancients, who hardly separated medicine from philosophy, fever could even derive from a state of connection with divinity, without necessarily being the manifestation of a pathological state.

Already the ancient Chinese, Indian, Arab and from the rest of the world doctors have found themselves, more than 3000 years ago, having to manage inflammations, infected wounds and epidemics – often given by bad hygiene and food conditions – whose typical manifestation it was a fever, also called pyrexia.

In the West, the perception that it had in antiquity was influenced for a long time by Hippocrates’ “humoral” theory, later consolidated and reiterated by Galen, according to which the diseases derive from a variation in body moods compared to the normally physiological condition. To heal from ailments, the body therefore had to expel “sinful” moods.

The fever was therefore considered a consequence of the struggle sustained by the body against the “altering principle” at the origin of the disease.

This approach was at the origin of the invention of cures that at times could be counterproductive or dangerous and which made use of purgatives and evacuatives administered to facilitate the expulsion of “sinful” moods.

In the Middle Ages, then, the ideas became even more confused, given that the belief that the fever was directly related to lice was deeply rooted. In fact, these parasites are very sensitive to body temperature and a slight increase has the effect of making them go away, looking for another host.

Despite the omnipresence of this physical manifestation in many pathological conditions, the ancient manuals of medicine have rarely dealt with it, specifically.

In an era where mysticism and medicine considered themselves to be one, being sick was much more “poetic” than today: the disease was seen more as a state of transition, of change, transcendence and purification.

Yet, even today, fever is frightening perhaps more than once, when at least the shaman or a medicine man heartened the hearts of the afflicted by telling fantastic stories about their state of health.

Today, disease is seen only as a problem and in today’s culture, everything that is a problem should not be solved as much as eliminated. Unfortunately, the elimination of problems at the expense of their conscious resolution does not allow their real overcoming.

What has consolidated over the past few decades is therefore a vision of fever as a “disease in itself”, often with little attention paid to the causes that caused it.

In the world, in fact, there is an abuse of antipyretic drugs even for trivial parainfluenza viral infections that require only rest and waiting; worse still, the suppression of fever can often hide an underlying pathology that must instead be treated with other drugs, such as antibiotics or antivirals.

A recent book by Dr. Gianpaolo Giacomini “Fever is not a disease” (Om edizioni), aims to clarify the biological sense of the febrile reaction, so feared by many and often a source of anxiety and fear.

Without a doubt, fever as a physiological phenomenon (and not pathological in itself) must always be investigated by the doctor to exclude serious causes at stake, but it must be lived as a moment of activation of the physiological system, not as a defeat.

The real defeat occurs when the fever is stopped while the causes that caused it are still active.

“If not well managed and modulated – explains Dr. Giacomini – lived with fear and even fear, or even worse if suppressed exclusively as a symptom with the use of drugs and other types of aids, including non-pharmacological ones, the regenerative potential is completely lost and curative of fever; the biochemical, cellular and enzymatic reactions that only come to life become numb, the regeneration potentials of the physiological system are inhibited and a functional block stage of all organic reactions, in particular immune, is reached ».

Fever is a reaction of liberation, of unlocking potentially blocked and muddy situations, indicating that the system is reacting in the struggle to reaffirm itself.

Furthermore, pyrexia can often also be of psychosomatic origin. Chronic stress and exposure to traumatic emotional events can cause a psychogenic fever.

“This is particularly evident in children – continues Giacomini – who may experience temporary increases in temperature following traumatic or emotionally important events”.

In some individuals, sustained stress over time can cause a persistent low-grade fever from 37 to 38 ° C. Other subjects, however, show high body temperature peaks, up to 39-40 ° C. Young women are particularly prone to psychosomatic fever.

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