Recurring Mild Illness
September 7, 2014 1:14 PM   Subscribe

For the second time within two months I have come down with an odd illness. The only symptom is that I feel tired and weak, similar to the tail end of the flu. My body is clearly telling me I am sick, but there are no other symptoms. None or the fever, runny nose, aches, sore throat that I can expect to see when I "normally" get sick.

My appetite is unaffected and I can even exercise a little, but anything that requires active concentration or focus is hard. I've been sleeping a lot. It goes without saying that my work is suffering.

The first iteration of this illness seemed to go away in roughly 2 weeks. The second time around I went to my doctor, who said it is probably a virus. I'm inclined to agree, it just seems odd.

The feeling is most reminiscent of the time I had a tongue infection, but that was obvious because my tongue swelled up. Currently one ear feels mildly uncomfortable, but not painful, and the doctor didn't think much of it (even though I was given a topical antibiotic). Could I have a very mild ear infection? Is that a thing?

My Question: Has anyone ever had a similar illness, that is, feeling "sick", but without any other symptoms? Is this a common thing? Should I wait it out, or be more aggressive pursuing treatment?

About me: 29 year old male, pretty serious runner, with a healthy diet. No known allergies. Not often sick.
posted by AfterAlbuquerque to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
People having nonspecific symptoms like being tired and weak without any obvious cause is quite common (witness many posts to the past about this here), and could be caused by many different issues. Unless there is an obvious infection component (i.e. fever), I would not assume that your symptoms are related to an infection, although it's one of many possibilities. If the symptoms are keeping you from doing your work, it sounds to me like they are certainly severe enough that you would be justified in pushing harder to determine their cause.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:25 PM on September 7, 2014


I think it's possible to get mildly ill, but not get sicker...it's happened to me. But I do want to share an anecdote--a dear friend of mine, who was also a healthy 29-year old, had symptoms like yours and eventually found out that he had leukemia. I'm sure it's very unlikely you're that sick. But it might be worth getting a blood test, if you haven't recently, just to see if anything odd is going on.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:31 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Has anyone ever had a similar illness, that is, feeling "sick", but without any other symptoms?

This has happened to me due to hormonal issues like ovulation or PMS, but since that won't apply to you, maybe go get some bloodwork done to check out regular stuff that would mess with your energy levels like thyroid, glucose/insulin, vitamin/mineral deficiency, etc.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 2:04 PM on September 7, 2014


If you rule out any illness, my standard in non-specific ill-feeling situations like this is a week of vitamin B-complex with zinc and high doses of vitamin D.
posted by erst at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


IANAD, but I've been living with excessive fatigue for a long time and here's my take.

I wish it weren't so, but there's just not enough to go on here for anybody to be able to give you a useful answer. Intermittent fatigue is just such a vague, nonspecific symptom that it doesn't really provide any clues. I know that's a frustrating thing to read since it's definitely a real drag to feel that way, but it's the truth.

You could take this to your doctor if you like. He or she will take your vitals, ask you some simple questions, and probably offer you a panel of blood tests. This process might turn up something that can be effectively treated in some way (e.g. a thyroid issue) but probably not; it's worth a shot, but don't get your hopes up too high.

Meanwhile, take another look around your life. You say you're a runner and eat healthy, fine, but have there been any recent changes in those areas? You say you've been sleeping a lot, but what about your actual sleep schedule? Are there any new sources of stress in your life, or any other environmental changes? How's your caffeine intake?

As I'm sure you already know, "lifestyle" is by far the most common cause of fatigue. It may not be in your case--I realize that your intuition is telling you that there's something more than that at work here--but it's at least something that is within your power to address and it may help even if it's not the ultimate cause. Taking (even) better care of yourself will only make you healthier and less tired, whether you're fighting something else or not.

You could also try supplements, if you like. Vitamin D deficiency is common in contemporary society, and simple to address. Some people find magnesium supplementation beneficial as well. I'm sure there's a whole host of other stuff that people can recommend, but those two are certainly unlikely to do any harm (unless you overdo the magnesium, in which case you'll get diarrhea). May help, may not, worth a shot.

I wish I could be more helpful, but I think that's about all anyone can say for you without engaging in irresponsible speculation. Your feelings of fatigue and weakness could seriously be anything from occasionally forgetting your morning cup of Joe all the way up to a lethal cancer, and just about anything in between. All you can do is work on it, starting with the simplest and most common stuff first. I wish you luck.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:13 PM on September 7, 2014 [6 favorites]


Currently one ear feels mildly uncomfortable, but not painful, and the doctor didn't think much of it (even though I was given a topical antibiotic). Could I have a very mild ear infection?

I get a feeling like this (pressure and discomfort but not really pain per se) in my left ear from time to time. For me, it's from sinus pressure. Sometimes when I have sinus pressure, I have a headache, too, and I often feel crummy because it makes me feel like I can't really breathe and my sleep is disturbed by that. Usually the sinus pressure has to do with an air pressure change (like when the air pressure drops because a storm is approaching, I'll get a lot of sinus pressure). It can last for a while (hours/days/weeks), because it's not just the low pressure but the change in pressure that causes it. The reason I personally get the bad feeling in the *left* ear and not both, I suspect, is because I have a deviated septum, and my left sinus is much smaller than my right.

Anyway, I wanted to note all of that, because I think it actually fits with your symptoms relatively well: the discomfort in the ear, the poor quality sleep leading to trouble concentrating and tiredness, the low-grade headache and inability to breathe well making me feel crummy and weak. Of course, I'm not a doctor, though, just someone with a bum nose!

Do you have a deviated septum or any other kind of sinus problem that could lead to sinus pressure? If you do have a sinus issue, there might be stuff you can do/have done and there might not -- depends on whether this is a big deal to you, and the particulars of what's going on with you. BUT the good news is that if it is just a weird sinus thing, it's (almost definitely) not dangerous or maybe even meaningful in terms of your overall health.
posted by rue72 at 2:28 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Wheat gives me extreme fatigue (partly from anemia), brain fog, and tinnitus, among other things. This is a pretty common reaction for people who are bothered by it, celiac or not, unfortunately.
posted by Lardmitten at 2:52 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Could be low iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or thyroid issues. Get some bloodwork done if it happens a third time.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:09 PM on September 7, 2014


I had something like this a couple of times last year and my doctor basically told me I needed a LOT of rest. I'm pretty sure I got a diagnosis of "virus" as well. I ended up taking like 3 days off work and just laying around, and I don't know if it was sheer boredom or what that proved motivating, but I certainly felt better afterwards.
posted by sm1tten at 3:14 PM on September 7, 2014


Allergies do this to me! I am totally inundated right now because I haven't been taking my allergy meds and it's rotten as can be.
posted by Hermione Granger at 3:35 PM on September 7, 2014 [2 favorites]


Could be an autoimmune disease or just allergies. When I have allergies I don't have a runny nose or sneezing, I just have postnasal drip which I don't notice unless it is really bad. Allergies can ramp up your immune system making you tired and cruddy feeling. Your mention of your ear being a bit weird leads me in the direction of allergies. Try an allergy medicine and see if you feel better.

The suggestion of autoimmune disease is because my +1 had similar symptoms which led to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis - again this is the immune system going into overdrive which makes you feel tired and cruddy. This is harder to diagnose and would take going to a physician for some blood tests. There are other autoimmune diseases in addition to rheumatoid arthritis which have similar symptoms.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:51 PM on September 7, 2014


Have you been tested for mono? It can return, by the way. Chronic mono is a thing. It can come back during times of stress or just for the hell of it.
posted by myselfasme at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


Long-term extreme training, such as in marathon training, can lead to depressed immune response (overtraining syndrome, link leads to full text PDF article).

From the linked article:
A tentative trend may be discerned whereby light to moderate exercise may increase immune responsiveness but high-level competition sport, especially if it involves extensive endurance training, may lead to a degree of immunosuppression. Such immune malfunction may be a component of the overtraining syndrome, in which recurrent infections during periods of maximum training or competition stress may form part of the syndrome.

Could your problem be related to overtraining?
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:47 PM on September 7, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you do trail running, could it be a tick-borne illness like Lyme?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:42 PM on September 7, 2014 [3 favorites]


This may not apply to you, but since I started taking nasal allergy medicine every day (Flonase), my "colds" are very different and mild because my nose does not get runny and I have no postnasal drip to cause a sore throat.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:49 PM on September 7, 2014


Lyme is a possibility, as is West Nile. Most likely it's neither.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:58 AM on September 8, 2014


Could your problem be related to overtraining?

This is a distinct possibility that I did not consider. I had just ended a pretty tough training cycle before this all got started. I took a little time off, but probably not enough. Further, I tried to "run through" the first iteration of this illness, which turned out to be a bad idea.

If you do trail running, could it be a tick-borne illness like Lyme?


I do a fair amount of trail running, and I live in a state with ticks (Virginia). Prevalence of Lyme disease in the area I live is relatively low, but it is a possibility.

Do you have a deviated septum or any other kind of sinus problem that could lead to sinus pressure?

Not that I know of (would someone have told me?). Not even a hint of sinus issues in either iteration, so I'm going to say that it is a lower probability.
posted by AfterAlbuquerque at 6:32 AM on September 8, 2014


I wish it weren't so, but there's just not enough to go on here for anybody to be able to give you a useful answer. Intermittent fatigue is just such a vague, nonspecific symptom that it doesn't really provide any clues. I know that's a frustrating thing to read since it's definitely a real drag to feel that way, but it's the truth.

I think I was not necessarily trying to get a diagnosis so much as an idea of whether or not this is a "normal" type of illness for someone to get (a low grade virus/infection with few symptoms). The aggregate answer I'm seeing is "probably not", at least not for a virus.

As I'm sure you already know, "lifestyle" is by far the most common cause of fatigue.

Exactly. And the more I think about it, the more I think it could be problem caused by lifestyle (over training, see above).

Your feelings of fatigue and weakness could seriously be anything from occasionally forgetting your morning cup of Joe all the way up to a lethal cancer, and just about anything in between.

So true. This should be a disclaimer on every Web MD page.
posted by AfterAlbuquerque at 6:42 AM on September 8, 2014


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