I've been sick with what I think of as a Short-Term Generic Debilitating Illness.
September 16, 2004 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I've been sick with what I think of as a Short-Term Generic Debilitating Illness. What do you call it? And how do you beat it? [mi]
posted by o2b to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Is it Alzheimer's? 'cause I've been refreshing for several minutes now, and you seem to have forgotten to post...
posted by five fresh fish at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2004

on preview: Har dee har.

The closest thing to a label I have for it is flu, but usually when I get the flu it's much more violent (more time on the bathroom floor). This is something I get once or twice a year, usually at times of relatively high stress:

Day 1. I notice a slight sore throat that progresses during the day. I start speaking like James Earl Jones, and I experience a restless, slightly feverish night.

Day 2. I'm down with a nasty sore throat and a fairly high fever for all of day two. Vomiting is optional, but not unusual. I experience a very feverish night.

Day 3: Usually the fever breaks on this day (to be followed by one or two fevers of decreasing magnitude), but not before congestion has settled into my nose. Towards the end of the day the congestion has moved from my nose to my chest, and I experience a night of coughing.

Day 4. I wake up exhausted from coughing, and my abs are killing me. Everything tapers off from here, but it takes another night's sleep before I can even think about resuming a work schedule.

Is this "flu"? Is it a "cold"? Since it has fevers and coughing, do you starve it or feed it? (I always push the fluids, and I usually starve the fever, then start eating when I have the strength.)
posted by o2b at 8:42 AM on September 16, 2004

Sorry, man. Couldn't resist.

Sounds exactly like a viral infection to me. Sounds also like your body is working pretty tip-top: four days is a few days shorter than most colds run.

Fluids are good. Everything else is optional. Most anything you can take for it is merely for comfort, and won't have any actual effect on the course of the cold.

Look at it as a really good excuse to take a break from life. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 8:47 AM on September 16, 2004

Whatever the hell it is I have the exact same thing, right now. Yesterday was throat day, and things are only getting worse.
posted by mmcg at 8:49 AM on September 16, 2004

You've described the exact pattern common colds followed for me for years and years, but fff is right that if it's a cold, it's a mercifully swift one.

For me, the last year they were really regular in this way was the last year that I smoked, and I had several colds that year. Nowadays I get them a lot less frequently (less than one per year) and each seems to follow a different path through my body.
posted by coelecanth at 9:03 AM on September 16, 2004

Thanks for the comments FFF. It sure doesn't feel tip top, but I'm glad it was relatively short.

mmcg: My throat tickle started on Sunday, and I was running (walking) errands by yesterday afternoon (although they killed the rest of my energy for the day). I still have sniffles today, and am a bit tired, but I'm at work.

It felt like a long time, but not nearly as long as when it killed my vacation in Hawaii last fall... I was down for 8 out of 10 days -- why can't stress release manifest itself as sleep?!
posted by o2b at 9:06 AM on September 16, 2004

For the past 10 years, same here as having a similar infection which make me sick 3 to 4 times a year. Since receiving medical help for it, last year had it once. Visit your doctor and have them give you a prescription. Don't take all of it and use it when it flares up again as you’ll be ready(never was able to make an appointment with my doctor the first few days it started, why too). This technique has saved many special occasions. One symptom that I had with this was that cold liquids made it last longer with a lingering sinus congestion.
PS, telling your doctor the frequency that this occurs a year may result in them prescribing a prescription that has a larger quantity than normal.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:37 AM on September 16, 2004

This sounds nearly exactly like what I call flu when I get it, except shorter, and I sometimes get very bad "cottonhead" where my ears feel like they are stuffed with cotton balls. Colds and flu always open with the sort throat salvo for me, but though I might get a little queasy, I pretty much never throw up for anything short of food poisoning or wicked, wicked hangover. Also, it's pretty rare for me to get it more than once during "the season", though I may get regular colds three or four times a year. For me, there's nothing to do but wait it out and drink lots of liquids.

There are so many things that are listed as having "flu-like" symptoms, though, that it could be any of a number of things - or basically nothing more than the way your body decides to handle stress. It would be good to be sure your physician is completely aware of all this.

thomcatspike, what kind of prescription are you getting for this?
posted by taz at 10:01 AM on September 16, 2004

IANAD but...
A warning about thomcatspike post. Depending on which medication you're given - this could be very bad advice. If what you have is viral (which from what you describe - it likely is) then there is yet no medication that can cure you. While there are some studies that say relieving symptoms (drug store soups of antihistimes, pain relievers and surpressant/expectorants) speed recovery, only time and your own immune system can truly help you. If a doctor determines you have a bacterial infection - you will get a perscription for antibiotics. Please - for yourself and really the health of the human population - don't mess around wtih these perscriptions. Take all the pills. It is the only way you can assuredly kill everything. Taking only part of your antibiotic perscription is not only the surest way to recurrence but also risks making your body into a breading ground for antibiotic resistant super bugs. And none of us want that.
posted by Wolfie at 10:17 AM on September 16, 2004

I have had similar such afflictions, but I have always attributed it to allergy-induced asthma. If I stop taking my allergy medicine, I will have a stuffy nose and sinuses in 24 hours. In 48 hours I'll have to carry a tissue everywhere and my nasal passages will be closed tighter than a convent. Even the channels in my jawbone will ache; this feels like a toothache, but isn't. The itching in the throat will start by the third day. Somewhere in there, my joints will swell a bit. I can pop my knuckles repeatedly, and my right knee will also make an audible pop if I stretch it out after having been bent for a while. By the 10th day, I will be coughing. A lot. By the end of the second week, I will have huge, painful, coughs, an inability to clear my throat, and the itching in the back of my throat will be so strong that it will make me struggle not to gag. If I let it go, it will become bronchitis: micro-sized killers will bed down on the layer of mucous in my lungs.

So I always take my allergy medicine.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:39 AM on September 16, 2004

I don't think flu is as common as people believe. By all reports having the flu is like getting run over by a truck, repeatedly, for the relatively short period that you have it. It comes on VERY quickly, you barf a lot, run a distinct fever, and have fatigue and body aches for no other specific reason (e.g. abs/coughing). If that's the measure I don't think I've had the flu even once in the last ten years.

By the way, my dad always thought that the "starve a cold/feed a fever" thing was causative, i.e. IF you starve a cold, THEN you'll be feeding a (subsequent) fever. I researched it a while back and there are several theories about what it means, all of them dubious. Nowadays experts say to just eat normally. I don't think they even recommend higher fluid intake -- just remember to get the normal, healthy amount.

Hope you feel better.
posted by coelecanth at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2004

You lose fluids in sweat and mucous. Keeping hydrated helps keep mucous looser and easier to cough up. (sorry for the ick.) I keep gingerale, tea and chicken soup on hand because I know I'll get 2 of these a year, or more.

Wolfie, I always figure the natibiotics I get in chicken and beef are a bigger problem than occasional casual use. Any further info? thx.

Henceforth, I shall refer to a cold as STGDI. There needs to be a foundation and a telethon. Maybe we can get a star to be the spokeperson.
posted by theora55 at 11:28 AM on September 16, 2004

If what you have is viral (which from what you describe - it likely is) then there is yet no medication that can cure you.

This might be technically true (i.e. there are no "cures", aside from getting your annual flu shot), but there are new antiviral drugs that can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms of viral infections, if taken early in the course of the infection. There are a bunch of FDA-approved anti-flu drugs, including, most recently, zanamivir and oseltamivir. As for anti-cold drugs, pleconaril is looking good in clinical trials. So your doctor may very well be able to give you something other than an antibiotic that will help lessen your suffering.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2004

Don't bother with meds for an ordinary cold. They're generally over in a week, with or without treatment of any sort. For most illnesses there is nothing to be gained by popping pills other than the thwarting your body's normal immune system behaviour.

If it lasts more than a week, then you may wish to ask your doctor to prescribe. And, of course, if the cold strikes you as being unusual, it's worth a visit just to be sure you don't have some sort of Very Bad Disease.

Otherwise, and in almost all cases, you should just stay at home, drink lots of fluids, and rest. Colds are a perfectly ordinary bit of being alive. Let your body do its thing and be glad for it.

As for bacterial infections ALWAYS take the full run of your antibiotic exactly as directed. Anything else carries the real risk of creating an environment in which the bacteria evolve to become resistant to treatment. You don't want that!

A handy rule of thumb is that bacteria usually cause specific symptoms: the bacteria has evolved for a particular environment and doesn't spread to other locations/organs. Food poisoning doesn't turn into a head cold; head colds don't cause muscle cramps; etc.

Viruses tend to cause general symptoms: the aching muscles, headache, queasiness, sleepiness.

A bad case of either can sometimes weaken the immune system such that opportunistic secondary infections may occur. This is the thinking behind prescribing antibiotics when suffering a viral cold: it's a "preventative." In most cases, I am convinced it is a mistake to do so: it "weakens" the immune system by making it unnecessary for your body to deal with the problem.

I used to attend a family doctor who was just fabulous for giving out pills. Every time I had a sniffle, he'd prescribe. Eventually I got sick of being sick and quit going in so much. Over the course of a year I became less and less prone to colds: my immune system finally had to take action instead of letting drugs do the work.

In my strongly-held and, I believe, informed opinion, you are far better off to allow your body to identify and deal with headcolds, stomach aches, snotty noses, and suchlike. You might feel like complete shit for a day or two and that is a-ok.

Develop a sense for what an ordinary sort of cold feels like, and go to the doctor only if (a) it lasts for more than a week; or (b) it feels like it could be some sort of Very Bad Disease (ie. has symptoms that you're not familiar with and which freak you out).
posted by five fresh fish at 12:12 PM on September 16, 2004

Open plea: Please stop abusing antibiotics. The local and global problems this may/will create is astounding. And we're just starting to see the beginning of it. Not finishing a course of antibiotics is Trouble, as it may leave the infection, but only stronger. Popping antibiotics like they're aspirin is only going to turn your body into a factory for resistant bacteria, not to mention tax your immune system something fierce.

In fact, I highly recommend (and practice) not using antibiotics at all unless it's life threatening. Raw garlic is an amazing natural antibiotic and immune system booster. I've used raw garlic to successfully treat a number of actual infections. (Sinus, tooth, lacerations.)

Yeah, you just eat the raw garlic. Try it the next time you have an infection. Sure, it burns while you're chewing it, and it makes you smell funny. But it also makes you feel real good afterwards, and is chock-full of excellent vitamins and minerals. A bite or three of cheese is an excellent antidote for the burn while you're chewing, and totally acceptable. Make sure you drink plenty of water, too.

Oh, and if you have loinfruit^H^H^Hchildren, make sure they eat dirt and stick all kinds of icky things in their mouths while they're still nursing. Their immune systems are insanely great during the birth to nursing phase, and this'll just make 'em stronger for the rest of their lives.
posted by loquacious at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2004

If what you have is viral (which from what you describe - it likely is) then there is yet no medication that can cure you.

Flu shots in advance are supposed to help... although there's apparently a body of thought that says flu shots do more harm than good. And I'm apparently among people who are at risk from adverse reactions, having had Guillame-Barre syndrome when I was a child.

Their immune systems are insanely great during the birth to nursing phase, and this'll just make 'em stronger for the rest of their lives.

Is this true? I've always heard infections put the young and old at the most risk...
posted by weston at 2:07 PM on September 16, 2004

You know, I have told this to at least four people, and none of them have followed my advice, but: In school I used to get those exact "cold" symptoms 3-4 times a year, at about the same times every year, until I started to take Echinacea every day for several weeks during those specific times. Since then (it's been 2 years) it hasn't happened ONCE. Now, I still feel a little sluggish, like I'm about to get a cold, but it never fully develops into one.

Just FYI.

*(first month of school, then at Christmas break, then sometimes after Spring break, then at the beginning of the summer)
posted by Hildago at 2:46 PM on September 16, 2004

bacterial infection - you will get a perscription for antibiotics
When I first had it, the college nurse tested me and said it was viral, no medication. Then when I went to the doctors in Dallas they prescribed antibiotics, guessing then it was diagnosed as bacterial. Also when I told the doctor that it reoccurs and that at times my work load makes it impossible to seek medical attention; I was given extra in my prescription for those times(doctor ok’d it).

Heck in France the pharmacist prescribed me medication from the symptoms I told him I was experiencing.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:48 PM on September 16, 2004

Raw garlic is an amazing natural antibiotic...

Oh, great. Loq is creating a race of garlic-proof bacteria. Boo, hiss!
posted by five fresh fish at 3:52 PM on September 16, 2004

FFF: I know you're being funny, but apparently the way they (marginally) understand how garlic works, it's a different sort of attack compared to most/all antibiotics. Something about the naturally occuring sulfites in garlic and natural immune system boosting from all the vitamins in it.

I only rarely catch cold. I'm trying to think of the last time I actually got sick for more than a few days to a week, and I think it's been years, as in close to 5 years. I can't even really remember the last time I had even a small cold. I think it has been about a year and a half. I haven't even been to a doctor in about 7 years.

Part of that is probably due to biking a lot, that I try to get some garlic in me when I know I've been exposed to someone with a cold, that I try to listen to my body and give it what it wants and manage my stress and lastly: probably because my system is generally so chock-full of nicotine, caffeine and EtOH that I'd kill a grizzly bear if it took a bite outta me.
posted by loquacious at 4:43 PM on September 16, 2004

I second the suggestion for echinacea. I take echinacea tea with honey and lemon (and maybe a little whiskey) as soon as I feel the tell-tale tickle in the back of my throat or whenever I'm around sick people. I haven't had a fever in probably 5 or 6 years.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:23 PM on September 16, 2004

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