Feeling unwell

Generally feeling a bit poorly could be a sign that you need to see your GP or it could be a minor passing ailment. It’s important to know when to stay in bed and rest, when to take some pain relief and carry on with your day, and when to seek medical advice. Here you will find information about colds and flu, headaches, stomach aches and urinary tract infections.

Of course, if you’re at all worried, see your GP or call NHS 111 for advice. If you are not sure what medical service you need, check this page.

Colds and flu
Both are caused by viruses and both have similar symptoms and can make you feel rotten. The general advice is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and wait for the illness to pass. Use disposable tissues (and throw them away) and wash your hands carefully to help prevent passing the virus on to someone else. Symptoms of a cold are:

  • blocked and/or runny nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • coughing and sneezing
  • a slightly raised temperature

In addition to some of the same symptoms of colds, flu symptoms include:

  • muscle aches
  • a fever (a temperature of between 38–40 degrees Celsius)
  • sweating
  • exhaustion

Over-the-counter medication, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and decongestants, can help relieve the symptoms. NB Antibiotics do not make you better if you have a cold or flu. Don’t take antibiotics if you have a viral infection.

If you’re fit and healthy, your body will cope with a cold or flu – the illness will run its course and you’ll get better after about a week. People with chronic conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, will be offered a yearly flu vaccine to help protect them from catching it. If this affects you, you should already know about this, but get in touch with your GP if this isn’t happening.

There are many reasons for developing a headache – many people have them and usually they are not serious and can be treated easily. Some of the common reasons for headaches are:

  • hormonal changes before or during your period
  • you could be dehydrated
  • you could be tense or stressed
  • you have a cold or flu

Take over-the-counter pain relief medication, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Speak to your pharmacist for advice and follow directions on the packaging. If your headache doesn’t go away and gets worse, call NHS 111.

Stomach ache
A short-lived, dull ache or cramps in your abdominal area could be:

  • period pains – regular pain relief should help.
  • trapped wind – embarrassing but not serious. Usually this passes but it can be treated with over-the-counter medication.
  • a tummy bug (if you also have diarrhoea) – this should clear up after a few days without treatment. If it carries on, though, see your GP.
  • constipation – eat more fibre (fruit, vegetables and whole grains), drink plenty of fluids and get enough exercise. If the problem continues, see your GP.
  • a UTI (see below)

A recurring pain in your abdomen could be a sign of a chronic condition such as irritable bowel syndrome or urinary tract infections. It is important to get a proper diagnosis so you can be treated appropriately – make an appointment to see your GP.

If you have a sudden, severe pain in your abdomen, seek medical advice immediately – call your GP or go to your nearest A&E. This pain could be a sign of something serious, such as appendicitis.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Symptoms of a UTI include:

  • a burning pain when you urinate
  • the need to go to the toilet a lot more often than usual
  • the feeling of needing to urinate but little or no urine coming out
  • pain in your lower abdomen
  • a slight fever
  • feeling shaky and tired
  • blood in your urine and/or it smelling bad

If you think you may have an infection, see your GP as soon as possible. It’s important to get treatment (usually a course of antibiotics) quickly because UTIs can spread to the kidneys and cause serious problems. There are over-the-counter remedies available (often called something like ‘cystitis relief’) but these do not work very well and taking them may prolong the unpleasant symptoms. It might be tempting to buy these as you may be embarrassed to go to the GP, but please don’t worry – your GP will be used to this problem and it is much better to seek their help straight away. Make sure you drink plenty of water as this will help to clear the infection from your bladder.

UTIs can be linked to having sex, so if you are sexually active and suspect you have a UTI, don’t be embarrassed to discuss this with your GP. This can happen the very first time you have sex which can be upsetting. Please do not delay going to the GP if this happens, even if you feel awkward about the fact that it has followed sex. Again, the GP will be totally used to this situation (it is really common), and will give you treatment as well as advice about how to prevent this happening again. One piece of advice they might give is that you should always empty your bladder after having sex. This may not be what you feel like doing, but it definitely helps reduce the chance of getting a urinary tract infection.

Remember: always wipe from front to back after going to the toilet to avoid bacteria from your bowels contaminating your urethera (the tube to your bladder).