Misdiagnosis of Flu


Distinguishing between flu and common cold is not always easy but desirable because of newer antiviral flu medications. Generally, a cold is milder and a flu more severe, but there are exceptions. Flu will typically cause high fever, whereas a cold rarely does, and is usually mild if so. Flu also typically causes headache, body aches, fatigue, weakness, exhaustion, chest discomfort, and other symptoms that are uncommon or mild in a cold. Symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, and sneezing are more prominent in cold than flu, but can occur with either.

The early flu-like symptoms (e.g. headache, fever, chills, etc.) are also characteristic of the body's general reaction to any infection. Hence, many other conditions start out with flu-like symptoms; see the list of conditions with flu-like symptoms. There are various serious conditions such as meningitis and HIV that may start out flu-like.

Cold and flu are not the only respiratory viruses with other possibilities such as respiratory syncytial virus. Note also that a digestive upset is not the flu, and rarely related to flu, even though some are called "stomach flu".

About misdiagnosis: When checking for a misdiagnosis of Flu or confirming a diagnosis of Flu, it is useful to consider what other medical conditions might be possible misdiagnoses or other alternative conditions relevant to diagnosis. These alternate diagnoses of Flu may already have been considered by your doctor or may need to be considered as possible alternative diagnoses or candidates for misdiagnosis of Flu. For a general overview of misdiagnosis issues for all diseases, see Overview of Misdiagnosis.

Alternative diagnoses list for Flu: For a diagnosis of Flu, the following list of conditions have been mentioned in sources as possible alternative diagnoses to consider during the diagnostic process for Flu:

Flu as an alternative diagnosis: The other diseases for which Flu is listed as a possible alternative diagnosis in their lists include:

Discussion of diagnosis/misdiagnosis of Flu: The flu differs in several ways from the common cold, a respiratory infection also caused by viruses. For example, people with colds rarely get fevers or headaches or suffer from the extreme exhaustion that flu viruses cause.1

The flu almost never causes symptoms in the stomach and intestines. The illness that some people often call "stomach flu" is not influenza. 1

Although nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany the flu, especially in children, gastrointestinal symptoms rarely occur. The illness that people call "stomach flu" is not influenza.

It's easy to confuse a common cold with the flu. Overall, cold symptoms are milder and don't last as long as the flu.2

Medical news summaries about misdiagnosis of Flu: The following medical news items are relevant to misdiagnosis of Flu:

Misdiagnosis cases for Flu: No cases available yet.

1. excerpt from The Flu, NIAID Fact Sheet: NIAID
2. excerpt from What to Do About the Flu - Age Page - Health Information: NIA

Last revision: May 30, 2003

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