Those troublesome aches and pains that often accompany aging may not be so harmless. Too easily ignored pain may turn out to be serious or even life-threatening. Experts say it’s important to pay attention to the body’s signals as they may be trying to tell us that something is very wrong. Don’t wait too long to seek medical attention if the symptoms are unusual.
“Boomers, especially, are very stoic,” Dr. Edwin Leap, a North Carolina-based emergency physician, tells AARP. “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 intercranial hemorrhage — a life-threatening situation.”
Leap advises that any sudden or unexplained pain should be checked out by a doctor. Here are some examples:
- Pain accompanied by loss of function. If you hurt your leg but can still walk, it’s probably a sprain, says Leap. “But if you can’t move it and you’re having pain, that should be investigated immediately,” says Leap. The pain can be caused by a fracture, nerve injury, or serious infection.
- Chest pain. Dr. Diane Ryan, an internal medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, tells AARP that older adults who suffer any type of chest pain should seek medical attention. The expert notes that heart attacks do not always exhibit sudden, crushing pain. Dull pressure, dizziness, fatigue, or shortness of breath also are signs of a heart attack. Chest pain can be triggered by a blood clot that travels to your heart or lungs.
- Sudden eye pain. Ryan says that eye pain that suddenly appears is an emergency. It could be a sign of internal bleeding, a blocked blood vessel or acute glaucoma. It’s also one of the first warning signs of painful shingles.
- Bleeding from the rectum. While colorectal cancer is often a “silent” disease, with no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage, there are red flags that you should watch out for, says Dr. Scott Kopetz, of the department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have persistent or unusual difference in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stool, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss colon screening.
- Severe headache. Leap says that while the occasional headache is normally nothing to worry about, a severe headache that is accompanied by a stiff neck, weakness, or change in vision needs to be medically evaluated. If you hit your head and are taking blood thinners even a simple bump can cause bleeding in the skull.
- Sudden stomach pain. If you feel severe pain around the navel accompanied by nausea, fever and vomiting it may be caused be appendicitis, according to Reader's Digest. Go directly to the hospital. When the pain radiates to either side of the navel, it could be triggered by a urinary tract infection or pelvic inflammatory disease. If the pain is situated on the right side only below the navel, this could mean gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. See your doctor for diagnostic tests.
- Pain in one or both arms. This can be a sign of a heart attack, especially in women, according to the American Heart Association. Discomfort in the jaw or between the shoulder blades is another signal that should be checked out by your doctor, says AARP.
- Calf or thigh pain. This could be serious, especially if it is in one leg, says Ryan. Increasing pain in your calf or thigh after inactivity could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis or DVT. Once a clot forms, it blocks normal blood drainage, which results in pain or swelling of the ankles and legs. In severe cases, the clot can break away and travel up to the lungs where it is called a pulmonary embolism, which is potentially deadly. DVT is more common in people over the age of 60, Dr. Jonathan Aliota, an interventional cardiologist, and a member of the Texas Heart Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine, tells Newsmax.
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