How To Tell If You Have The Flu And Not Just A Cold, Because The Symptoms Can Be Similar

If you're feeling a little under the weather, the first thing you're probably wondering is how to tell if you have the flu, followed up by "Why the heck didn't I get the flu shot? It only takes a few seconds." The cold and flu season is brutal, and since flu symptoms are often similar to those indicating a cold, it's tough to tell what you might be coming down with.

Let's discuss the flu a little bit first — "flu" is obviously a cute abbreviation for "influenza," and since there are no other cute aspects of this ailment, let's enjoy the fact that its nickname makes it seem like nothing more than a bad cold. The flu is actually a virus that likes to spread throughout your respiratory tracts, and it's powerful enough to evolve every year. That's why each annual flu shot you get is slightly different from the year before, and why getting it once won't cover you for the rest of your life.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the flu can often enter and leave the body in a couple of weeks, but some people are prone to develop complications that might lead to more serious illnesses, like pneumonia. This is why you really ought to rest and recover once you're diagnosed (and honestly, if you do have the flu, you probably have no choice but to recover. Even getting out of bed will be a challenge).

If you think you have the flu, you should make sure to head to your doctor immediately. If you're still unsure if it's the flu, or just a pesky cold, here are some symptoms you should be on the lookout for.

1. Fever

If you have a fever, there's a greater chance that you're facing the flu. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says that the fever should last for a few days, and also notes that with a standard cold, a fever is a bit more rare. Healthline backs this up by stating that if a fever accompanied a cold, it'd be mild-to-moderate at most — 101.4 degrees or less, according to the site.

2. Chills

Chills are pretty common with the flu, but not so much with a cold. Chills often go hand-in-hand with a fever, and usually mean that your muscles are expanding and contracting at a rate that'll cause you to shiver.

3. Fatigue

Remember how I mentioned that the flu would likely keep you in bed? You'll be so tired, that getting up is just plain difficult to do. We've all suffered with colds at work, and while being slightly sick in the office isn't ideal for anyone, you'll still have had the strength to get up and get moving just in time for the morning commute. If it's the flu, you'll have called out probably 15 seconds after your alarm went off.

4. Diarrhea and vomiting

These two symptoms are way more common in children than adults, says Virology Blog, with up to 40 percent of young influenza patients reporting diarrhea as a symptom. One thing's for sure — it's definitely not a symptom of a regular cold, so if you feel like you have gastrointestinal problems alongside the other symptoms, you might be one of the rare, unlucky people who finds out through stomach problems that they definitely have the flu.

5. Muscle aches

You'll be feeling the pain primarily in your back, arms, and legs. If you're used to muscle aches, a good way to tell if they're flu-related is how quickly they begin. While colds typically take their grand old time to fully develop, flu symptoms will make you feel bad almost immediately.

6. Loss of appetite

Sounds awful, right? Without food, you end up feeling more weak, but you just can't stomach the idea of eating. All you want to do is lay down in a pile of aches and malaise. While this is a symptom that appears during many illnesses, it's a great way to differentiate between the flu and a standard cold.

If you notice yourself losing your appetite, try your hardest to at least get some liquids down — some chicken soup, or a mug full of hot tea may help you feel better and help you avoid dehydration. (Of course, sipping on some water will help this the most.)

7. Sore throat, and a dry cough

It's finally time to dive into those cold-like symptoms! Coughs and a sore throat will happen with both influenza and a cold, but of course, they'll be more severe (and arrive quicker) with the flu. Pretty much, instead of feeling like you might be getting sick, you will wake up feeling awful immediately, and probably sound similarly to Ferris Bueller's rigged doorbell. "H-h-hello?"

8. Headache

Why is a headache a symptom of all things? I'm totally over headaches, and adding a headache to the rest of the flu symptoms just seems cruel. University of California, San Francisco's health department notes that the headache accompanying a flu will be pretty severe, and generalized. So, kind of like an "I'm not sure if two Advils will properly handle this, but it's the best I've got right now" situation.

If you think that you might have the flu based on these symptoms, first I offer you my sincere condolences. Second, you should call your doctor immediately, and focus all of your energy on getting better. Since the flu is highly contagious, and capable of spreading a day before and up to seven days after its onset, you shouldn't be around other people — even if you're bummed about missing work, believe me. Your top priority right now is you.

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