When Flu Complications Become Serious

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While it’s definitely no fun to get the flu, it usually doesn’t land you in the hospital. But for some, the flu can turn serious. Even deadly.

What Are Signs That My Flu Is Serious?

Every person is different. But it’s possible to develop serious flu symptoms just a day or two after you begin to feel sick, says internal medicine physician Daniel Opris, DO. “This is especially true if you have underlying health conditions.” Serious symptoms of the flu may include:

  • High fever that won’t break
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent and progressive muscle aches and pains

Other serious complications may include inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues that can lead to organ failure. Your body may respond to these complications by developing sepsis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency, says Dr. Opris. 

Pneumonia is a complication of the flu that can develop later. “We’ll see patients who recovered from influenza, and then a couple of weeks later they develop pneumonia. This happens when a serious infection or inflammation slowly develops in your lungs and eventually becomes pneumonia,” Dr. Opris explains.

Who’s At Risk For Serious Complications?

Those who are younger than 5 (but especially younger than 2), and those older than 65 are at a higher risk of flu complications. Also at high risk are pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, asthma, or diabetes.

“Sometimes we see young and healthy people who are surprised they developed a serious case of the flu. That’s often because they have an underlying health condition that was not yet identified. Because they’re young or feel healthy, they tend to avoid seeing their doctor for an annual physical, which is where underlying health conditions are caught and treated,” Dr. Opris explains. 

How Can I Avoid Serious Flu Complications?

Your best defense against the flu is a flu vaccination, says Dr. Opris. “The vaccine helps your body recognize the virus and eliminate it so the flu never becomes too severe or turns to pneumonia.” Other preventive steps include:

  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Disinfect surfaces that could carry germs.

If you’re experiencing the flu and your symptoms are getting worse in spite of over-the-counter medications and plenty of fluids, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor. 

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