6 Clear Signs You’re Getting Sick

Updated: Jul. 28, 2023

Got any of these telltale symptoms of a cold or flu? Get ready to call in sick.

Woman lying in bed propping herself up on one elbow and holding her forehead while holding a box of tissues in the other hand.

You’ve got chills (and they’re multiplying)

“There are certain illnesses that have an abrupt onset, where one minute you’re well, and then suddenly, you’re not,” says Steven Lamm, MD, medical director of the Tisch Center for Men’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY. That’s very typical of influenza. Flu symptoms include the rapid onset of chills and fatigue, says Dr. Lamm. When you’re coming down with a virus like a cold, you’re more likely to feel mild fatigue or a scratchy throat; symptoms come on more slowly than for flu. Abrupt shaking, chills and fever are usually signs of influenza or a bacterial infection that needs to be examined soon, suggests Dr. Lamm. Here are some more clear signs you’re getting sick—and what to do about it.

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Woman in a tank top drinking water from a water bottle.

You’re sweating like a truck driver in Texas

Sweating often accompanies fever and chills as part of everyday viral and bacterial infections. This type of sweating usually comes on quickly, and be an early sign that you’re getting sick. Sweating can also accompany more serious conditions like cancer, heart disease, glucose control issues or lung disease, but this type of sweating is more chronic. Medications can also cause sweating but this would be abrupt and without the chills and other issues with respiratory infections.

5 Signs Your Excessive Sweating Is More Than Just Embarrassing

Woman lying on a couch holding her stomach with her left hand.

Your stomach is mad at you

Vague nausea, some abdominal cramping or a little diarrhea are early signs that your stomach is off. When someone has gastroenteritis (inflammation of the lining of the GI tract caused by bacteria or a virus), they might experience nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Most people recover without treatment, but be sure to drink fluids, since dehydration is common when you have this illness.

Woman sitting on a couch covered in a blanket holding a thermometer in her left hand.

You’ve got a temperature

If you’re sneezing, have a headache or feel sluggish this fall, you may be wondering if you’re getting sick or just suffering from allergies. When you have a cold or flu you feel sick and generally have a low-grade temperature, says Dr. Lamm. With allergic rhinitis and hay fever, you may feel congested and have repetitive sneezing, but if you tend to feel this way every spring and fall and don’t have a temperature, it’s likely just seasonal allergies.

10 Crazy Common Cold Symptoms You Probably Didn’t Know About

Woman lying on a bed eating a bowl of chicken soup and holding her forehead with her left hand.

Your appetite is MIA

If you’re coming down with gastroenteritis, you might have a sense of abdominal fullness where you don’t feel like eating. Not having an appetite or not enjoying foods you normally do could also signal that you’re on the brink of becoming ill with other kinds of infections, from a cold to strep throat.

14 Feel-Better Foods to Eat When You Have a Cold

Woman lying on a bed propping her head up with one hand and using her cellphone in the other hand.

You feel mentally blah

Feel irritable or down in the dumps? Don’t want to jump out of the bed even though you’re normally a morning exerciser?  These telltale signs combined with some of the other signs like fever and chills could mean you’re getting sick. “[When you’re getting sick] there’s mild depression in that you don’t want to go out with your friends, you don’t want to go shopping, or do things you enjoy … these are clues that something is brewing,” says Dr. Lamm.

17 Natural Cold Remedies That Really Work

Woman sleeping on a bed near a white nightstand that has a glass of water on it.

Bottom line: Pay attention to your body

“A lot of people get into trouble with their health because they don’t tune in to what their bodies are telling them,” says Dr. Lamm. Listen to the severity, abruptness, and duration of symptoms you’re feeling. “When your body is ill, it needs to focus all of its energy on the immune system and healing,” says Dr. Lamm. So cut yourself some slack, focus on rest, stay hydrated, eat well-balanced meals, and call your doctor if you experience sudden changes.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest