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When to call if you have the flu

A lot of people think the flu is like the common cold, a minor and temporary illness. It’s not. Just getting the flu makes anyone feel really sick for a few days. You feel physically weak, you have no energy, you ache all over, you have a fever.

But if you rest and drink plenty of fluids, it usually will pass. That’s why, even though you feel really sick, you usually don’t need to contact your doctor. However, sometimes the flu virus overwhelms the body’s defenses, and a person develops pneumonia. This happens most often to people who have a chronic illness.

An adult should call the doctor if he or she:

  • Starts to feel very short of breath;
  • Starts to cough up colored sputum;
  • Starts to get a sharp pain in the chest every time he or she takes in a deep breath;
  • Has a fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • Starts to feel lightheaded, or actually passes out;
  • Has a serious chronic disease like heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or diabetes, or has medical conditions or takes medicines that suppress the immune system.

Just getting the flu doesn’t mean you should call the doctor, but watch out for these danger signs. They definitely are a good reason to speak with your doctor.

— Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

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