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Fever is one of the body's most powerful defences against disease. Hyperthermia artificially induces fever in the patient who is unable to mount a natural fever response to infection, inflammation or other health challenges. It is used locally or over the entire body to treat diseases ranging from viral infections to cancer, and is an effective self-help treatments for the common cold and flu.


Hyperthermia-treatment of disease with heat-is gaining popularity in two diametrically opposed camps-the sophisticated world of high-tech medicine and the 'kinder, gentler' field of natural healing. Cutting-edge physicians are experimenting with a variety of space-age high-temperature treatments for cancer and AIDS. At the same time, practitioners of natural healing advocate more down-to-earth heat treatments for ailments such as colds, flu and other respiratory infections, bladder problems and urinary tract infections, and other types of infection and inflammation throughout the body. Many also regard such treatments as a means of ridding the body of stored-up toxins that presumably cause ill health.

Procedure of Treatment

Defined as any temperature above the body's normal level of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, hyperthermia can be applied to specific trouble spots in the body or administered globally to create an artificial fever. In a procedure known as diathermy, high-tech doctors use electrical currents, ultrasonic waves or microwave radiation to boost the temperature at selected points in the body. They may also resort to extracorporeal heating, removing blood from the body, heating it and returning it to the body at a higher temperature-a procedure that has been used in the battle against human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). To get any of these treatments, you will probably need to check into a medical centre. Natural healing practitioners, on the other hand, tend to favour less exotic forms of treatment that can be given on an outpatient basis in the office or clinic. The equipment required is typically nothing more than a bathtub, sauna or steam room. Whole-body immersion is an especially common approach. It is usually done in a deep, stainless steel tub. The water is typically heated to between 101 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit, although temperatures as high as 115 degrees are sometimes used if the patient can tolerate them. The goal is to keep the body temperature between 102 degrees and 104 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes. Locally-applied hyperthermia may also be used, for example in the treatment of a hand or foot wound, and many practitioners use a combination of hyperthermia and cold baths or compresses to help stimulate circulation. For example, one leading hyperthermia clinic, the Uchee Pines Institute, employs the following treatments for headaches. Hot foot bath with cold compresses to the head. Alternate hot/cold foot bath (three minutes hot, thirty seconds ice water) and cold compresses to the head. Alternate hot/cold applications to the head, starting with hot compresses at the base of the head and ice water compresses at the face, temples, ears, and forehead. After three minutes, the areas of heat and cold are switched; the complete cycle is repeated two more times. Although treatments often amount to little more than sitting in a very hot tub, do-it-yourself hyperthermia is not recommended due to the extremely high temperature required.

Treatment Time: For whole-body immersion, a typical treatment requires approximately 30 minutes-10 minutes while the body temperature rises and 20 minutes while the high temperature is maintained. The time required for other forms of treatment varies widely.
Treatment Frequency: The course of treatment depends on your problem and the type of therapy. For upper and lower respiratory infections, patients typically undergo only one or two treatments. For more serious conditions, however, therapy can take much longer. Cancer patients typically begin with 15 treatments over a three-week period followed by a three-week rest. The cycle is then repeated 4 more times.


Whole-body hot water or steam hyperthermia is usually prescribed to combat infections. Because many germs cannot tolerate high temperatures as easily as our bodies can, these invading organisms often die from the extreme heat before any harm befalls the surrounding tissues. While hyperthermia may not kill all of the invaders, it can reduce their numbers to a point where the immune system can easily dispatch the remainder. Other, more intensive hyperthermia treatments are used to treat viral infections. For example, much research has been done recently on the use of hyperthermia in the treatment of HIV infections. Some studies have shown that HIV is temperature-sensitive and becomes much less active at temperatures above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In the treatment of cancer, some studies have shown that hyperthermia can modify cell membranes in a manner that actually protects the healthy cells and makes the cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Used as an adjunct, hyperthermia may thus permit lower doses of these potent and toxic forms of therapy. Much research is also being conducted on hyperthermia's beneficial effect on the immune system. Researchers have found that although the white cell count appears to drop immediately following the hyperthermia treatment, it rebounds strongly within a few hours. Furthermore, the cells' ability to destroy invaders appears to be enhanced. Among many natural healing practitioners, hyperthermia is also viewed as a means of ridding the body of toxins such as pesticides, food additives, and other chemicals thought to disrupt the immune system. There is currently no evidence that it works in this manner.

Who Should Avoid This Therapy?

Although many of these treatments seem 'natural' and benign,, for some people hyperthermia can actually be quite dangerous. For example, it should be strictly avoided during pregnancy due to potential danger to the unborn child. People with peripheral vascular disease or loss of sensation should avoid it due to the risk of burns. Likewise, it is not for those with temperatures regulation problems, especially the elderly and the very young. You should avoid it if you have a heart disorder such as an irregular heartbeat or an abnormally rapid pulse. And it is best to forego this type of therapy if you have extremely high or low blood pressure. A number of other conditions can increase your sensitivity to extreme temperatures. If you have anaemia, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problem, seizure disorder or tuberculosis, you may need to either reduce the number of treatments you take, exercise more precautions, or perhaps seek another method of treatment altogether. Before beginning the treatments, you should also give the doctor a list of all the medications you are taking. High temperatures can increase the impact of certain drugs-theophylline, for example-to the point where they become toxic.


The risk of side effects rises with the body temperature; most occur at temperatures above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Among the most commonly reported side effects are herpes outbreaks, liver toxicity, and injuries to the nervous system. In the very young, there is a risk of seizures. In the very old, there is a greater danger of heart failure during the treatments. Keep in mind, also, that those seeking this type of treatment for an acute illness such as pneumonia may have a more difficult time tolerating extreme temperatures at the outset. The treatments can also cause a temporary flare-up of some chronic conditions such as herpes. However, these initial side effects may subside after a fever is initiated.