Flu - Symptoms 

Symptoms of flu 

Cold or flu?

Do you know the difference between a cold and flu? An expert explains the conditions, treatments and remedies available.

Media last reviewed: 11/07/2013

Next review due: 11/07/2015

Flu or cold?

The symptoms of flu and the common cold can be similar. Here's how to tell the difference:

Flu symptoms

  • come on quickly and include fever and aching muscles
  • make you feel too unwell to continue your usual activities

Cold symptoms

  • come on gradually
  • affect just your nose and throat
  • are fairly mild, so you can still get around and are usually well enough to go to work

Help fight flu

Sign up for the flu survey to help researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine track the spread of flu and discover more about it. The survey takes just a few minutes each week and anyone can take part.

The symptoms of flu will usually peak after two to three days and you should begin to feel much better within five to eight days. 

However, you may have a lingering cough and still feel very tired for a further two to three weeks.

Flu can give you any of these symptoms:

  • sudden fever – a temperature of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
  • dry, chesty cough
  • headache
  • tiredness
  • chills
  • aching muscles
  • limb or joint pain
  • diarrhoea or upset stomach
  • sore throat
  • runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping

When to visit your GP

If you are otherwise fit and healthy, there is usually no need to visit your GP if you have flu-like symptoms. 

The best remedy is to rest at home, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

You can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to lower a high temperature and relieve aches.

You should visit your GP if you have flu-like symptoms and you:

  • are 65 years of age or over
  • are pregnant
  • have a long-term medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease or a neurological disease
  • have a weakened immune system (the body's natural defence against infection and illness)

Flu can be more serious for these groups and antiviral medication may need to be prescribed.

Read more about how to treat flu and who should see a doctor.

Page last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015


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The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Jlawson118 said on 12 November 2014

In September I just had an upset stomach this particular Friday, although I was going through an anxious time and just thought that was it. I didn't eat all day until the evening and all I did have was a sandwich.
Alongside the upset stomach, I had a really dry and fairly sore throat but again but it down to anxiety.

The next day my anxiety was acting up again and I felt really sick and just unwell but I've been feeling like that a lot lately, we were out, things kicked off again and I headed home. Things went back to normal around an hour later, so I could feel my normal self again, although I didn't. I was getting more and more bunged up as the day went on, I had a bath and then just went to bed around 4/5pm and awoke at 7, played a game for a few hours but still felt absolutely dreadful. I felt this flu getting worse and bought some Night Nurse medicine in advance because I know it's helped me before, took it on that Saturday night, and awoke Sunday barely being able to speak I was that bunged up.

I laid in bed most of the day and felt a little better come the evening time, but was still bunged up for a while.

Think I'm coming down with it again now, I've got the dry sore throat and a bit of a funny feeling stomach with a runny and blocked nose :(

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Graal said on 08 October 2014

My little brother had a bad case of the flu that swept through my family, and just as they were getting over it (just in time for a wedding), I came back from Uni. I was infected, suffering from terrible headaches, a stuffy nose, fever and chills, aching all over, et cetera.

The next morning, I was totally fine, it turned out that my decision to go to bed early may have been the best one, as I ended up sweating a great deal, perhaps to the extent that either my body burned up because it was generating antibodies, or because I was sweating the virus out (which sounds like a bad myth). In all honesty, I think the best cure for any cold/flu is likely a paracetamol, rest, and a blanket (sweating can make you cold, which doesn't help your body).

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anthony1975 said on 07 September 2014

not sure if I have a cold or flu , my back and my legs ache also sore throat and hot flushes, lastly heavy headache....

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Giggles87 said on 24 April 2014

Pretty certain I have the Flu, I have all the symptoms except difficulty sleeping. in fact yesterday I woken up from a 35-40 hour sleep.

called work yesterday to give a heads up that I wont be able to work today. and now I face a disciplinary.. >.<

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User734455 said on 30 November 2013

Live in the real world.
Your employer will demand a "fit note" if you are ill for over 7 days.
Gov.uk TELLyou to visit you doctor..
Can we have some joined up thinking here?

Oh also, I now realize just how debilitating flu is.

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sick of pain said on 10 November 2013

I have either got a bad cold or flu but have a few of the symptoms above

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User297576 said on 06 October 2013

I agree with the doctor.......I work in a job where you just can't be ill. Staying off work = letting 100s of people down on some occasions. I've run events where I've had to speak publicly for hours when I'm not well enough to do it. I remember once I did it with a stomach bug and countless times with coughs/colds. Ideally, I should've stayed at home and perhaps saved others from my germs too. However, I couldn't. This is not 'all about money'. I think you're being a bit naive and possibly not experienced in the real world and/or jobs with responsibility.

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orlandowells said on 27 January 2013

The Doctors advice is utterly terrible!

'In an ideal world, we would all rest and stay at home if we are ill, but we can't'

That is such bad advice and just shows you how even the Professionals are bent over a barrel for a dollar bill! Sick of this world and how its all about money! Man made concept to give 'things' worth!

End of the day - if you are ill then you should stay at home until you are better again - fact!

Don't go into work if your ill... what is the point? Internet GPs telling us to go to work with a cold! Thats a first!

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hopey59 said on 21 December 2012

I have the flu right now,i have all of the above symptoms :(

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hellogoodmorning said on 01 October 2012

You forgot puking. I have the flu right now and I'm puking.

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