So Sick of Being Sick
January 8, 2013 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Any thoughts on whether this is viral/something you've heard of going around, or whether it might be time to find a new doctor soon?

From about the 20th to the 25th, I had what was easily identifiable as a bad cold or flu. Mostly head symptoms, stuffy/runny, weak, so on. Maybe a bit of a fever, maybe not (lost my thermometer but definitely woke up sweaty a few times). Then, thankfully, I started to feel better...until suddenly I didn't.

Last Wednesday, I started to feel really lousy but in a different way. Cough but not really a productive one, dizzy/lightheaded, fatigued, nausea (no vomiting), no appetite. More concerning was that I had a bit of pain and soreness in my left chest, shoulder, and arm. I would also feel like my heart was thudding after even small amounts of physical activity, although my pulse didn't seem to be wildly high when I would check. I started to worry that it could be a heart attack, so I went to the ER. Tests (EKG, blood enzyme, CT scan) all came back fine. Was also feeling anxious, but probably because I was working myself up about something potentially being seriously wrong with me. No fever.

The following night, I woke up from a dead sleep feeling really anxious and like my heart was pounding, and what felt like a slight tightness in my chest. Went back to the ER, and a couple more EKGs and blood tests later, they tell me I'm still fine. Also, still no fever.

Went to see my doctor today, and he basically told me he doesn't know what's wrong with me but that he feels comfortable the major stuff is ruled out. Sent me on my way and told me to come back in four months, but didn't really address what to do (and when) if I keep feeling like this (to be fair, I didn't think to ask). Again, no fever.

As it stands, I still have no appetite (I can eat but have no desire to), mild to moderate nausea on and off, dizzy and sort of lightheaded and out of it on and off. Headache on and off. Chest/arm/shoulder soreness and pain on and off, still mostly on my left side. My nose has been a bit stuffy in the last few days, but nothing like it was when I had the traditional cold symptoms two weeks ago. I still have no fever. Sometimes the symptoms are stronger, sometimes they're not bad. Sometimes eating seems to help, sometimes it seems to make things worse. Activity of almost any kind seems to make things worse.

Any thoughts? Any word going around about people having similar sickness, particularly without a fever (I'm in MA)? Any thoughts on how long I should let this continue before I try to approach my doctor (or maybe a different one)? You are, of course, not my doctor.
posted by rollbiz to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get tested for toxoplasmosis?
posted by yogalemon at 5:02 PM on January 8, 2013

Did your doctor rule out mono? Mono in adults is a 6-12 week week long bout of tiredness, achy muscles, etc. but generally not bad enough to knock you on your ass.

Also, get a new doctor. A primary care physician that says, "I don't know, good luck with that" is a shitty PCP. If he doesn't know he should have referred you on to a specialist, at a minimum.
posted by COD at 5:08 PM on January 8, 2013

It's worth getting a second opinion from a new primary care physician.
posted by grouse at 5:11 PM on January 8, 2013

Toxoplasmosis? Wow, people say the darndest things. Going to the doctor's office and asking for a toxoplasmosis test based on your internet research is not going to come off well. Toxoplasmosis, like many other infections, can manifest as an influenza-like illness. It's generally self limited. Hardly any person with a normal immune system gets tested for it. Mononucleosis typically includes a sore throat and doesn't include a cough. Again, it's self limited, there is no specific treatment.

IANYD, I work in MA, there are tons of people coming to the ER with symptoms like these (viral illness-like: cough, congestion, nausea, headache) +/- a fever. The chest pain and lightheadedness are common accompanying symptoms (chest pain from coughing and lightheadedness from dehydration, generally). Not saying that's your diagnosis but I can definitely testify there's a ton of this in Massachusetts right now and throughout the northeast - it's an early and active flu season, according to the CDC.

You can get a second opinion if you want, it sounds like your current physician didn't do a great job of outlining a plan for you or explaining his or her thoughts on what's going on, which isn't a good sign. Also, if you keep having intermittent palpitations ("heart pounding"), you'll want to follow up with your physician or someone else sooner. It sounds like you got fully checked out for most emergent heart and lung issues at the ER, but an EKG only captures your heart's rhythm at a moment in time, and sometimes catching an arrhythmia requires a monitor you bring home with you. I think right now your physician is assuming the palpitations are going along with the rest of the illness, and wants to see if you still have the palpitations after the infectious symptoms go away. I'm just guessing. This isn't medical advice, but I do think you should ensure that you stay well hydrated. Your lack of appetite is probably causing you to eat and drink less than you should and this could be causing the lightheadedness.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Pertussis? There's a test but it takes a couple weeks to hear back. I don't know if that's what you have obvs, but that's exactly how it starts. Of you keep coughing and coughing, and coughing... its worth pursuing.

If you do have it expect to feel completely better in, oh, March. And don't cough on any babies or old people until you know.
posted by fshgrl at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2013

TMI question: are your BMs normal? And are you eating regularly, or skipping meals because you don't feel like eating?

I had most of these symptoms last week, except I was also vomiting. My chest was very, very sore from all the coughing. My doctor told me that I was unlucky enough to come down with BOTH the regular flu AND a gastrointestinal bug at the same time -- both are definitely going around with a vengeance right now. Can you take a couple of days to seriously rest and let your immune system do its thing?
posted by oinopaponton at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2013

Often when I have a head cold, I then acquire a chest cold/bronchitis/something with chest symptoms right away afterward. I have also had some wicked lightheadedness from dehydration.

Do you have anxiety about medical issues? Like, chronic self-monitoring anxiety? Don't discount that with your chest - I have had some weird perceptions about my heart rate at times that don't seem to be real things, and I have definitely given myself phantom chest pain. I had a full workup for palpitations a few years ago - turned up nothing, was virtually certainly anxiety and stress.
posted by Frowner at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you taking (or have you taken) any sort of cough or cold medicine? Because even a tiny dose of Advil cold and flu or robitussin gives me bigtime heart palpatations and chest pains.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:01 PM on January 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

i have/had this since NYE. I took to calling it the plague. I think it's a flu not included in the flu shot because I got one of those.
I had the coughing, nausea, insane amounts of mucus, fever for a while, aches, shivers, etc
Including the left side pain you mention, which, while totally scary, based upon past personal experience is costochondritis from the coughing.
The first time I ever experienced it, I went to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack. Had pain shooting down my left arm and everything. The ER did all the appropriate tests, but my doc told me it's the kind of thing you diagnose from across the room when the patient arrives.
It sucks. And takes a while to go away.
I actually ended up in the ER this time at the tail end of the flu thing on Monday because I broke my freaking leg. Lame. I was still hacking up my lungs and they kindly treated that in addition to my stupid leg. But the doctors and nurses all mentioned that everyone is getting this plague. Sorry you feel like shit.
posted by atomicstone at 6:08 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also in MA and, anecdotally, this is definitely going around. My family and coworkers have been struggling through it since late December. Sucks and takes forever to go away. Happened to people who got flu shots, too, so not sure what's going on there.
posted by sonmi at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2013

I work at a hospital in MA and today they sent out a company-wide email about an extra severe flu season, how tons of people are getting hit with it, and even people who had the shot are getting it. Everyone around me (at work and out of work) has been sick, many for several weeks. My wife has finally gotten over whatever she had for the past three weeks. I was sick about a month ago for over a week.

I'm not saying you have the flu or you have what everyone around me has or that you're not coming down with The Anthrax or whatever, just letting you know that a lot more people are getting sick this season and it's lasting a lot longer than usual.
posted by bondcliff at 6:25 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any word going around about people having similar sickness, particularly without a fever (I'm in MA)?

My SO is in MA and has been up and down with this in about the same timeframe as you. No fever except a very mild one at the beginning. He's also had the same "I really should be better by now...." concerns but his doctor is a bit better at saying "Come back for any reason!" but even when he goes back they say the same thing "There is some Crud going around and you appear to have it. Take Mucinex and stay on top of your asthma medicine. Take Advil if the coughing is making your muscles hurt. Stay fed and hydrated and otherwise take it easy."
posted by jessamyn at 6:43 PM on January 8, 2013

I'm in western Canada and it's the exact same thing here: flu season hit early and hard.
posted by lulu68 at 6:45 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also in MA, lots of flu among my friends and acquaintances, reports of schools seeing lots of absences among both students and teachers. I'd stay on a flu regime (rest, liquids, etc.) and maybe avoid any OTC meds that include "rapid heartbeat" and similar as a side effect.

Hope you feel better soon!
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:51 PM on January 8, 2013

People often don't realize it, but the flu SUCKS. (Ianyd)

It's not just any other itty-potty viral cold.

It's a systemic disease that totally flattens you, with bad myalgias, nausea, whole body symptoms, that last for a while.

I've seen it mistaken for meningitis, sepsis, pneumonia, so it could totally explain you symptoms.

If getting a diagnosis would put your mind at ease, it Might be worth asking for a nasal swab test for influenza, if they offer that where you're from.
posted by cacofonie at 7:08 PM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The actual influenza is an ass kicker, agreed. The couple of times I've had it, at least once I have had that resurgence effect where I think I'm getting better and then fall back a little bit.

Waking up in a sweat and anxious can be an apnea indicator. Perhaps your flu is causing some minor breathing disruptions, or exacerbating some sub-clinical apnea that you might already have. You could also have bronchitis or acute asthma (the non-chronic kind). Possibly even a touch of pneumonia.

I actually have similar symptoms right now, but not as severe as you describe, and I self-diagnosed it as a flu that IS covered by the vaccine that I'm just working through. The kind of thing where I'd be flat on my ass without the shot, but with it I'm just mildly inconvenienced.
posted by gjc at 7:35 PM on January 8, 2013

I had to endure similar fuckery. I didn't get chest pains or a bad cough, but I did enjoy a sinus infection. I think that was a complication, and bacterial, because I felt OK after antibiotics, but I was mildly lethargic, weepy, and unintelligent until as late as this past weekend. I did have the flu shot.

Sounds like others are having the same thing but I also think your doctor is being kinda crap by telling you nothing better than to come back on 4 months. How is that supposed to make you feel better? So if you get worse, call your GP's office and ask them if they think you need to go in.
posted by tel3path at 8:08 PM on January 8, 2013

First, thanks SO MUCH to everyone who has answered so far.

A couple clarifying things:

The cough was pretty bad at the onset of this second round of sickness, but overall isn't much of a factor now. It does flare up a bit when I'm active, it seems.

TMI question: are your BMs normal? And are you eating regularly, or skipping meals because you don't feel like eating?

I do not mind discussing BMs. :) My BMs have not been normal, actually. I forgot to mention it, but I've had mild diarrhea for this whole recent phase. Not "I've got 5 seconds to get to the toilet or UH OH" variety, but definitely not my normal routine either.

In terms of eating, I've been trying to keep a reasonably normal schedule but I've been finding it hard without the hunger trigger kicking in basically ever. As far as hydration, I've been doing the best I can because I know it's important and I think I've been doing fairly well. Probably 6-10 pint glasses of water a day.

Do you have anxiety about medical issues?

Yes, at least with things that I perceive to be potentially very serious. I'm young, but I'm a fat dude with high blood pressure (mostly controlled with medication) and I do worry.

Are you taking (or have you taken) any sort of cough or cold medicine?

During the initial cold/flu thing, I took Sudafed and Delsym, mostly because I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine to sleep, so I really can't sleep when my nose is plugged up, at all. In general, I don't really like taking them for a couple reasons including that they make me jumpy. This time around (since Christmas), I haven't been taking anything except two nights where I've had a cocktail. Yes, I know that's not a great idea but it's been literally the only thing that gives me a couple of guaranteed hours of relative relief.

Waking up in a sweat and anxious can be an apnea indicator. Perhaps your flu is causing some minor breathing disruptions, or exacerbating some sub-clinical apnea that you might already have.

Definitely possible, and I hadn't considered that. The last time it happened was the night my cough was the worst.
posted by rollbiz at 8:09 PM on January 8, 2013

Also, one other thing: Not to defend my doctor exactly and I'm not sure he's going to be my doctor going forward, but he's old-school. By that I mean that he's seventy, we finish all of my visits in his office (as in sitting at his desk, talking). I think he means well and I think he cares about his patients (he came to see me in the ER across the city from his office at 6AM on my second visit), I'm just not sure that his style is my style in terms of letting things roll when I'm feeling shitty and concerned about it.
posted by rollbiz at 8:17 PM on January 8, 2013

I get a lot of those symptoms--sore throat, unproductive cough, chest pain, nausea, no appetite, lightheadedness--when my GERD flares up. I wonder if your flu experience has exacerbated some underlying acid reflux. Like, have you been chugging orange juice, maybe? Or taking mucinex? Mucinex thins your mucous secretions which helps clear your nose, but also thins the mucous in your GI system which makes your normal stomach acid more annoying. Also, constipation makes reflux worse, so if you haven't been having normal bowel movements because you haven't been eating properly, that might be contributing.

The easy fix is this: Stick to bland foods with some fiber in them. Eat regularly. If you can't bring yourself to chew, chug some Ensure (with fiber). Stay hydrated. Take a prilosec once a day for a week and see if that helps. If you still feel feverish or achey, avoid ibuprofen or aleve--take tylenol (according to the dosage, no more or you'll break your liver).

And just take it easy. I am sure that anxiety is playing a role here. It's insidious and hard to separate out, but maybe a little meditation could help. Be gentle with yourself. I'm a big fan of being an advocate for myself, but I think this time it's worth trusting the doctor and giving yourself time to heal before undertaking any more poking and prodding.
posted by elizeh at 8:18 PM on January 8, 2013

Also, I see that you are on blood pressure medication. Sudafed does NOT play well with that. There is a medication--Coricidin, I think it's called--that is formulated for high blood pressure. You might try switching to that.
posted by elizeh at 8:21 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hadn't been sick for, literally, years, and got sick over Thanksgiving and just now starting to actually get better after two rounds of antibiotics and 5 days of steroids. Have been to 3 doctors and yeah, it's just a virus, or more than one. And it's hanging on for all it's worth, including severely impairing my hearing until the past few days. This is just anecdotal, of course, but I do think it speaks to this year's strains...feel better!
posted by FlyByDay at 8:45 PM on January 8, 2013

Yeah, Coricidin has an HBP version but I think it's different stuff for a different purpose. The primary ingredient is dextromethorphan (cough suppressant) rather than a decongestant, which is what I need when I've got a cold and need to breathe through my nose at night.

At any rate, I haven't been taking either since this new onset, or since Christmas, approximately.
posted by rollbiz at 8:46 PM on January 8, 2013

If you have diarrhea or are fighting dehydration, you might avoid Prilosec (omeprazole) as this can worsen the runs.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:06 PM on January 8, 2013

I had this too (DC suburbs here), right around that time for at least a week. A ton of people here have had it, it seems worse than the usual cold/flu because of the dry cough that persists for a while. The cough was nasty because it was so persistent, but I couldn't breathe well through my nose either which made it very difficult to get enough rest. And this was after getting a flu shot early in the season which may have made the symptoms less severe. I went through every over the counter cold/flu medication, plus a lot of that Airborne supplement.

An Afrin kind of spray in the morning seemed to help (blowing my nose constantly was not fun but it was easier to breathe at night once the congestion was gone), and a Chloraseptic throat spray so the coughing wasn't as painful (I got the store brands of this stuff, it was fine). The other thing that helped was the weekend arriving so I could sleep for 12 hours straight without being bothered.
posted by citron at 9:16 PM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had the flu for the first time about a year ago and it took me about a month to recover. My guess is that you've had a bad cold.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:30 PM on January 8, 2013

If you need to breathe and think the Sudafed might be interfering with your other meds, try using Afrin spray (which I call Evil Nose Candy). It's pretty addictive, but manageable if you can just put it in one nostril only. If you must do both nostrils, then here is my proven method of weaning yourself off the Evil Nose Candy Addiction:
1. Once you start feeling better in the rest of your body, pick one side of your nose to be your quitting side. Stop using Afrin in that nostril.
2. Continue using Afrin in the other nostril so you can still breathe on one side. Wait until the Afrin-absent side heals up and can operate on its own, probably for 3-5 days (or maybe more. It's okay.)
3. Once the non-Afrin side is good to go and you can breathe out of it without any drugs, stop using the Afrin in the other nostril. Again you'll have a few days to wait for it that side to recover, but hopefully your first nostril will give you enough oxygen to get through it. Eventually, you'll be free on both sides.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:24 PM on January 8, 2013

It seems the Mayor of Boston has declared a flu emergency. Things are bad.
posted by bondcliff at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2013

I'm also in MA and I've been dealing with a similar sick experience since just past Thanksgiving, so you are not alone. I haven't had a fever. I didn't go to the doctor until I had a bad cough for more than 2 weeks, which was just bronchitis. I've been living off of excedrin, sudafed and cough syrup more or less.
posted by disaster77 at 11:09 AM on January 9, 2013

Just as a reference point for Massachusetts, Boston declared a public health emergency today. Last year, there were 70 confirmed cases of the flu; this year, so far, there have been 700.

[on preview: Or, what bondcliff said two comments and several hours ago]
posted by not_on_display at 6:24 PM on January 9, 2013

Thanks again, all...!

The nausea and cough have faded, and I've been feeling a bit better, but I walked 20 minutes today and it kind of laid me out for the rest of the day, made me feel really out of it, and really felt like it set me back. Lesson learned, again. Whatever this is, I apparently still badly need rest.

If I do feel like I need to see a doctor again, I'll be seeing a different one. My reasoning has to do as much with the fact that my doctor seemed to be at the end of his ability or inclination to try to provide answers as much as anything...
posted by rollbiz at 9:40 PM on January 11, 2013

Just to let you know how mine progressed: It took me about 10 days after the major symptoms subsided before I felt like I was back at 90% of my normal energy. I also still have a "wet" cough which my doc says may last for a few more weeks. So just have patience, drink fluids, rest well, and hopefully you'll be back to normal by the beginning of February.
posted by not_on_display at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2013

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