Is it a cold or the flu? Here’s how to tell
November 17, 2009
“My body aches and my head is throbbing. Do I have the flu or is it just because I’m stressed or tired? Do I need a flu shot? Do I need the H1N1 vaccine, too?”
Millions of Americans will be asking themselves these and other questions this fall and winter as news reports and health care providers continue to warn about seasonal influenza and H1N1 influenza, commonly known as swine flu.
The flu symptoms self-assessment tool on MayoClinic.com can help you assess whether you or your loved ones have some form of flu, or just a cold. If you possibly or likely have the flu, you’ll also learn whether antiviral medication is an option. And you can check a concise list of high-risk groups who should seek medical attention for the flu.Flu — influenza — is caused by a virus that attacks your respiratory system. Health experts agree that if you’re generally in good health, the flu — either seasonal or H1N1 — will likely do no more than make you feel rotten for a few days. You probably won’t develop complications or need to go to the hospital. If, however, you have an already weakened immune system or are among those considered high risk — such as infants, young children, pregnant women or the elderly — the flu can be a serious and even fatal illness.
Common symptoms of both the seasonal and swine flu include:
Sudden onset. Colds usually develop over a few days and are only a nuisance. Flu hits you quickly and hard.
Chills, sweats, headache and body aches, especially in the back, arms and legs.
Fever higher than 101 in adults and up to 103 or more in children.
Nasal congestion but a dry cough.
Overall weakness and fatigue.
No appetite in adults and children, and diarrhea and vomiting in children.
Worsening of chronic ailments, like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Most healthy adults will only need to treat the symptoms and let the illness run its course. Infants, young children or adults at risk of complications, however, should see a doctor right away. Antiviral drugs, taken in the first 48 hours that symptoms develop, may trim the length of the illness and help prevent the development of serious complications, like pneumonia.
Ultimately, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting the flu. Talk to your health care provider about getting vaccinated. Go to www.MayoClinic.com for more information about managing your health.