On a Monday evening I felt a bit of a scratchy sore throat and a tad of fatigue. By Tuesday morning I couldn't bring my head off the pillow, and slept deeply throughout the day. This continued through Wednesday with severe muscle aches and cramping. "What is this?" I thought. It began as an onset of an upper respiratory infection.
I scoured the internet for flu symptoms as I was waiting until the onset of fever and congestion.
When you get a cold or other upper respiratory infection, it usually starts out slowly. You may feel a headache, a mild sore or irritated throat, some congestion or any number of other cold symptoms. They start out mild and get worse after two to three days and then gradually go away.
That is not how the flu starts. The real flu - influenza - comes on suddenly and in full force. Most people feel completely normal when they go to bed and then wake up in the morning feeling like they were "hit by a truck". A majority of people who have the flu will have a fever, body aches, headache, and cough. Congestion is a symptom as well but is often not severe.
Contrary to popular belief, vomiting and diarrhea are not common symptoms of the flu. They are more common in children with influenza but only occur in about 10% of people that have it. If your primary symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, you most likely have a gastroenteritis - or stomach virus.
Influenza (also known as flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
I was missing the fever, runny nose. I had experienced some sweating and chills. But, the pain in my head and extreme fatigue was what alerted me that this was not a normal cold.
If you're living with fibromyalgia, this time of year can be especially trying. That's because two of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms are all-over musculoskeletal pain and fatigue feelings similar to those experienced with a bad cold or the flu. In fact, about half of patients with fibromyalgia experience a “flu-like” illness that precedes the development of their symptoms.
So how do you know if you've come down with the flu, or if your aches and pains are due to fibromyalgia? There are important differences that can clue you in, including:
- Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause fevers. “Some patients will say that their temperature is consistently a little higher or lower,” says Kim Jones, PhD, an associate professor at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and head of the Fibromyalgia Information Foundation. But spikes in fever from fighting off an infection are not due to fibromyalgia.
- Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause coughs and congestion. Classic cold symptoms, such as coughs, sniffles, a runny nose, and a sore throat, are not fibromyalgia symptoms.
I was luckily enough to get in early. I can tell you by then I was a real mess unable to keep my head afloat on my very shoulders. The doctor took one look at me and said, "You waited too long."
"How was I to know?" I thought. "I'm always sent home unless I have some type of phlegm and fever."
"There are new strains coming out. We've seen several in the office who have had the flu with no fever or severe chills," she explained. "You missed the two day window for a swab so we'll never know for sure."
She did note that the intense facial pain was due to an acute sinus infection that apparently began trying to drain in my nostrils. Of course, little luck was had there as to why I was unable to breathe. Antibiotics were prescribed and I was sent home. Lesson learned: when overwrought with severe fatigue and pain seek medical attention quickly. Here are some other remedies to make life a bit easier if you get the bug.
Coping With Flus and Colds
If you do get sick this cold and flu season, here’s how to help yourself feel better:
- Drink fluids. Staying well hydrated is important for feeling your best with fibromyalgia, but it’s even more important during dry winter months and when you’re trying to fight off or manage a dehydrating fever.
- Take acetaminophen (Tylenol). If you want to ease the aches and pains of fibromyalgia or flu symptoms or the soreness of a vaccination, take acetaminophen instead of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which have not been shown to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms and can cause more gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Treat your symptoms. Colds and flu are viral illnesses, so antibiotics won’t help. But there are ways you can treat your symptoms in order to feel better. If you are taking prescription medications for fibromyalgia or other health conditions, make sure you check with your doctor or read labels to avoid any negative interactions with cough and cold medications.
- Practice infection prevention. Wash your hands often, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and minimize your contact with people who are sick. Fibromyalgia is not a condition of low immunity, but it’s good to avoid exposure to illness whenever possible.
Finally, if you're confused about when to contact your doctor, follow this advice: “New headaches that are different from any in the past, and new symptoms that have not been experienced by you in the last few months, are worth running by your health care provider.”