Consumer Health: Feeling better when you have the flu

a young woman sitting on a couch, wrapped in a blanket who is looking sick

Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Influenza is commonly called the flu, but it’s not the same as stomach flu, which is an intestinal infection marked by watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea or vomiting, and sometimes fever.

For most people, the flu resolves on its own. But sometimes, the flu and its complications can be deadly. People at higher risk of developing flu complications include young children, pregnant woman and those two weeks postpartum, people over 65, people with weakened immune systems and some chronic illnesses, and people who are obese. If you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, contact your health care provider as soon as possible.

Most people who get the flu, however, can treat themselves at home and often don’t need to see a health care provider. At first, the flu may seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly; whereas, the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a bother, you usually feel much worse with the flu.

While you may feel miserable while you have it, the flu usually goes away in a week or two with no lasting effects. In the meantime, there are some self-care measures that can ease your symptoms. Learn more from Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician. And remember that although the annual flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective, it’s still your best defense against the flu.

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