Everyone is hyper-aware of flu symptoms right now, and since flu symptoms can be so common to other changes — like pregnancy — it can be hard to tell what's going on. The flu and early pregnancy signs that look alike can often make you feel miserable, too, so you'll want to be more aware this flu season.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted, the flu comes on abruptly — one day you're feeling fine, and the next, you're down for the count. The onset of symptoms related to early pregnancy can be similar. But there are some major differences between the two. "Since influenza is a virus, women will likely have fever, chills, body aches, coughing, or stuffy or runny nose, which would not be symptoms of pregnancy," Dr. Tami Prince, MD, OB-GYN, and Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks tells Romper.
"Flu comes with a fever and chills, early pregnancy doesn't," Dr. Daniel Roshan, OB-GYN, tells Romper simply. "Ultimately if your period is late or missed, a home pregnancy test should be done." And while you're waiting for those results, be aware of these three signs.
It's also possible that you have the flu and you're pregnant. As BabyCenter explained, pregnancy makes you more susceptible to all kinds of unpleasant germs: "Your body naturally lowers its ability to protect you from illnesses during pregnancy so that your immune system won't reject your baby. Meanwhile, your heart and lungs work harder to supply blood and oxygen to you and your baby, and your lungs have to function in a smaller space because of pressure from your growing belly. All of this contributes to stress to your body, making you more vulnerable to illness in general."
Unfortunately, because pregnancy can strain the heart and lungs, catching the flu is more dangerous when you're expecting, BabyCenter continued: "Pregnant women who get the flu are at risk for serious complications that could require hospitalization, and their babies are at higher risk of not growing enough in the womb." Pneumonia is the biggest threat, as it can put you at greater risk for preterm labor.
It's worth noting that plenty of expecting moms get the flu and don't develop any complications, but even an uncomplicated case of the flu is pretty awful when you're pregnant. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all moms-to-be get the flu shot during flu season, regardless of their trimester, as Tatnai Burnett, M.D., explained on the Mayo Clinic website. A flu shot during pregnancy doesn't just reduce your odds of getting the flu, it also helps to prevent fetal health issues, as "having a fever caused by the flu early in pregnancy might increase the risk of fetal birth defects." This protection even extends beyond birth, because while infants are especially vulnerable to severe flu symptoms, childhood flu vaccines can't be administered until a baby reaches 6 months of age. "If you have a flu shot during pregnancy, the antibodies you develop will pass through the placenta and breast milk, if you're breast-feeding. These antibodies help protect your baby from the flu after birth," Dr. Burnett said.
Of course, before you start thinking about how the flu will affect your pregnancy, you need to figure out if you're pregnant in the first place (or just under the weather). These symptoms are signs of both.
Both the flu and pregnancy can make you feel suddenly fatigued. You might feel like it's harder to get out of bed in the morning, or be desperate for naps throughout the day. The CDC noted that fatigue is definitely a symptom of the flu — it's not as common in typical colds — and flu sufferers often feel like they cannot even sit up.
As Health reported, feeling extremely tired is also one of the most common signs of early pregnancy. Your body is gearing up for a ton of changes, and all your extra calories are going to your uterus, leaving the rest of your body lacking in some much needed energy.
Nausea and vomiting are, stereotypically, telltale signs of pregnancy, but they are also common flu symptoms. "Loss of appetite, which is also a symptom in influenza, can also be seen in pregnancy as a result of nausea and vomiting," says Prince. The CDC noted that vomiting and diarrhea can be symptoms of the flu, too, but are seen more often in children, rather than adults. But if you're feeling sick, look for other signs of influenza like muscle aches and fever before panicking.
Aches and pains are notorious flu symptoms, and the CDC mentioned that headaches are common with the flu. Headaches can also be common in early pregnancy, as mild but frequent headaches can be a result of your body's increasing blood volume, as noted by Parents.
But again, if you're not experiencing a lot of other signs of influenza, these are most likely pregnancy symptoms — if you've missed your period.
Risa Klein, OB-GYN, tells Romper that other signs like "missing a period, breast tenderness, areola darkening, rashes, and uterine enlargement accompany early signs of pregnancy," but wouldn't be common with the flu.
Dr. Tami Prince, OB-GYN
Dr. Daniel Roshan, OB-GYN
Risa Klein, OB-GYN
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