The 10 Aches and Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore

The 10 Aches and Pains You Shouldn’t Ignore

Have you ever wondered which aches and pains you should ignore, and which ones should trigger a visit to your doctor or the ER? Here’s how to tell the difference.

Anyone who is getting older knows that aging brings a variety of little hurts that weren’t there when we were younger. Perhaps it’s a touch of arthritis in your hands, or knees that tell you they don’t like climbing stairs anymore. You might get more headaches, and activities that you used to do without a care now result in a sore back.

“Boomers, especially, are very stoic,” says Dr. Edwin Leap, an emergency physician in South Carolina. “They’re used to things hurting. So they put off chest pain for a day or two, and by the time they come to hospital they’ve completed a heart attack. Or they fall off a ladder, get up and say they’re fine. Then it turns out they have an intracranial hemorrhage — a life-threatening situation.”

Usually, these symptoms can be treated at home. But how can you tell if the pain you’re experiencing needs a closer look from a medical professional? As a general rule, pain that comes on suddenly and/or severely should be checked out, according to Dr. Sonia Sehgal, an internist who specializes in geriatric medicine at University of California’s Irvine Medical Center. Symptoms that linger also warrant a trip to a health care specialist, she says.

The following are 10 symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore:

  • Chest pain. A heart attack can come on as a dull pressure or heaviness, according to Dr. Diane Ryan, an internal medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
  • Sudden eye pain.It could indicate that you’re getting shingles, a painful viral condition, or that you have a blocked blood vessel, internal bleeding or acute glaucoma.
  • Severe abdominal pain. Acute appendicitis, a serious infection or diverticulitis may be the cause. “You know your body,” says Leap. “If you’ve had this pain on and off for years, that’s one thing. But if it’s new and it doesn’t let up or it keeps getting worse, I want to see you.”
  • A terrible headache.A serious headache, especially if you also have neck stiffness, weakness or vision change, or after you hit your head, is concerning enough to have it checked out.
  • Prolonged pain from a minor cut or wound.If a small wound turns red or swells, or if it gets worse rather than better, it may be dangerously infected. “Organic material causes infections that spread wildly,” Leap says. “I’ve seen a splinter that got up under a fingernail. A few days later, they’ve got red streaks up their arm and a raging infection.”
  • Pain in your calf, especially after surgery. Calf pain can signal deep vein thrombosis, a dangerous type of blood clot that often occurs in patients recovering from knee or hip surgery.
  • Pain accompanied by a loss of function. If you hurt your leg but you can still walk around, it may just be a sprained ankle. “But if you can’t move it and you’re having pain,” Leap says, “that should be investigated immediately.” You may have a fracture, nerve injury or loss of blood flow.
  • Nerve pain. Tingling or numbness in your hands or feet can be a sign of nerve damage, particularly if you have diabetes. Lab work can help determine the cause, says Sehgal.
  • Extreme fatigue.Contact your doctor if you feel profound fatigue after easy tasks like washing the dishes or taking out the garbage. It may signal heart disease or problems with thyroid function.
  • Difficulty breathing. If you take a walk every day and suddenly feel like you’re struggling for breath, visit a health care professional to see if it’s related to asthma, emphysema or heart disease.
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