If you are hurting, see your doctor, but seniors, in particular, sometimes write off pain as a function of aging and may wait too long to get medical attention, says Edwin Leap, M.D., an emergency physician in western North Carolina.
AARP’s recent article entitled “10 Pain Symptoms You Should Never Ignore” says that Boomers, especially, are very stoic.
Leap remarked, “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 have completed a heart attack. Or they fall off a ladder, get up and say they are fine. Then it turns out they have an intracranial hemorrhage — a life-threatening situation.”
Certain types of pain are more likely to mean something serious. Doctors recommend heading straight to the ER if you are experiencing one of the types listed below.
- Pain with loss of function. If you hurt your leg but can still walk on it, it may be just a sprain. However, if you cannot move it, and you are having pain, it should be investigated immediately. It could mean a fracture, nerve injury, loss of blood flow, or a serious infection.
- Eye pain from nowhere. This could be the result of a blocked blood vessel, internal bleeding, or acute glaucoma (a serious eye condition caused by increased pressure inside the eye). Eye pain can also be the first symptom of shingles, a viral infection that causes a painful rash. If you have sudden onset of eye pain, that is an emergency, doctors warn.
- Chest pain. An older adult experiencing any type of chest pain should be evaluated by a doctor ASAP. That is because a heart attack does not always manifest as sudden, crushing pain. It can sometimes be a dull pressure or a heaviness. Other signs of a heart attack are dizziness, fatigue or shortness of breath while doing ordinary activities, like going up the stairs or gardening. Chest pain may also be a signal that a blood clot has moved to your lungs or heart. That is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate treatment!
- Pain in one or both arms, your jaw, or between the shoulder blades. These are lesser-known symptoms of a heart attack and are more likely to affect women. Nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness and light-headedness are other heart attack symptoms. Severe pain between the shoulder blades can also be caused by an aneurysm or a tear in your aorta, a major blood vessel.
- A horrible headache. A headache is trouble if it is accompanied by neck stiffness, weakness, or vision change, or if you recently hit your head. If you are on blood thinners, just bumping your head can cause dangerous bleeding in your skull.
- Severe abdominal pain. If this pain is associated with vomiting, swelling or a fever, it can be a signal of acute appendicitis, a serious infection, or diverticulitis.
- Calf or thigh pain, especially if in just one leg. This can be a sign of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a dangerous type of blood clot especially common in patients recovering from knee or hip surgery. DVTs need to be treated right away because the clots can travel through your bloodstream and block the blood supply to your lungs, a life-threatening condition called pulmonary embolism.
- Pain from a minor wound. If the pain from a wound (especially one that is red and swollen) keeps getting worse over a few days, it can be a sign of a serious infection that can turn deadly if not treated.
- Pain after a procedure or injection. Spinal injections, biopsies, or other therapies that involve injections can occasionally cause infection or bleeding. If you experience persistent pain or loss of function after one of those, call your doctor immediately.
- Pain with fever. If you have a high temperature as well as pain, your body may be fighting a dangerous infection. It is especially important to seek treatment quickly if the pain is:
- in your mouth, throat, or neck, since swelling from an infection in those areas can compromise your airway;
- in your lower or upper back, which might mean you could have a kidney infection or a spinal infection that could cause paralysis if left untreated;
- associated with an area of tender, inflamed skin. This may be a deep skin infection called cellulitis that could spread and cause tissue damage, or you may have a fluid-filled abscess that is infected and needs to be drained; and
- at or around a surgical site. Post-op infections typically appear within 30 days, and in addition to fever, you may see an unexpected increase in pain, swelling or drainage (pus) from your incision.
Reference: AARP (Dec. 29, 2021) “10 Pain Symptoms You Should Never Ignore”