We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We have that annoying ache or niggle that doesn’t seem serious enough to bother the doctor, but doesn’t really get better either. However, some seemingly trivial pains must be dealt with promptly or they can lead to more serious consequences. But how do you tell the difference between the ‘ordinary’ aches and pains of life, and the ones we should act on quickly? Here’s a list of ten important pains you should never ignore.
1. Sudden sharp pain
A sudden sharp pain that prevents or inhibits your movement should never be ignored. For example, a paralyzing pain in the back after bending or lifting could indicate a ruptured disc that’s putting pressure on your spinal cord. Alternatively, it could be a muscle spasm, giving you intense pain and locking up the muscles in your back, or if it’s in your stomach then it could be a digestive blockage, a ruptured ovarian cyst, or an ectopic pregnancy (when the fetus starts to grow in the ovarian tube instead of the womb). These are all serious problems that need prompt medical attention.
2. Persistent pain
If persistent pain interferes with your daily life and isn’t relieved by over-the-counter medication, it warrants investigation. Heartburn sensations could be a stomach ulcer, digestive problems, or even cancer. Meanwhile, long-running constipation, pain in your lower gut, or persistent diarrhea can all be symptoms of colorectal cancer.
3. Chest pain
A stabbing sensation under your rib-cage could signal a heart attack, especially if it’s accompanied by breathlessness. Pain from a heart attack can also spread to the arms—women often experience pain in the back, neck and jaw rather than the chest itself. Pain under your ribcage can also be a sign of an inflamed gall bladder.
4. Pain after surgery
It’s important not to ignore significant pain or pain that seems to get worse a few days after surgery. This can signal infection in your wound, or it may be caused by something physically wrong (such as a relapse of your initial problem, like a hernia or prolapse).
5. Pain that steadily worsens
Pain that gets steadily worse can be a signal of an infection, and the longer you leave it, the longer it will take to recover. For example, appendicitis often present with pain in your right side that gets increasingly severe and spikes sharply after you’ve pressed on the area. If not removed, your appendix can rupture and cause peritonitis, which can be life-threatening.
6. Pain accompanied by bruising and pressure
If you have pain as the result of an injury, you may have bruising too. Although not necessarily serious, if you have pain in your calf following a leg or foot injury, this could be a blood clot or embolism. If a clot breaks free and moves to your heart or lung, it can be fatal. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can also cause similar symptoms.
7. Head pain
A severe headache could mean something critical, especially if accompanied by vision disturbance, nausea or vomiting. Extreme head pain can be caused by a ruptured brain aneurism, a stroke, or meningitis, all of which need prompt medical attention
8. Pain with deformity or swelling
If your pain is accompanied by deformity or swelling, this could be caused by an injury like a fracture or dislocation. This will need proper diagnosis and treatment, but such an injury can occasionally block your blood circulation to the affected limb, which must be remedied quickly to avoid permanent damage or even amputation.
9. Pain accompanied fever and chills
Some illnesses cause pain with fever and chills, which may signal something as simple a common cold, but could be something significantly more serious such as influenza, pneumonia or measles. Conditions like Lyme disease, lupus and tropical diseases (including malaria and typhoid) can also cause these symptoms.
10. Pain with a known cause
Finally, just because you know the cause of your pain doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Something that seems relatively minor, such as a toothache, is unlikely to get better until the root cause is treated, and it could be leading on to more serious complications—such as potentially fatal septicemia. Always take action to deal with the problem rather than leaving it to luck.