From The Straits Times    |

Image: Corbis

1. Severe headache

Fortunately, most headaches are harmless, and this is precisely why many people tend to ignore them. 

But there are certain kinds of headaches that you should never disregard, for instance, ones that are sudden or severe or persistent, or that are associated with fever. A headache that is only made worse by coughing or sneezing, or accompanied by confusion, a loss of coordination, a stiff neck, vomiting, fainting, numbness or tingling, should also not be dismissed. And if you experience an intense headache following a fall or a hit to your head, you should definitely be concerned.

It’s not common, but such extreme symptoms may point to a bleeding stroke or a blood clot. It is best to seek medical attention right away to rule out anything serious. 

2. Dental pain

Toothaches are annoying and something many of us will try to ride out on our own with painkillers and ice. But it’s important not to delay professional treatment, especially if your toothache is keeping you up at night. If the pain and infection spread to your neck, it can be dangerous and even life threatening. 

When your tooth is no longer able to fight off an infection, the bacteria may move down to the root and cause an infection in the gum. This can lead to facial or cheek swelling, difficulty chewing and swallowing, sore lymph nodes, and excruciating pain that over the counter painkillers simply cannot get rid of. 

It’s bad enough when your dental pain migrates to your neck, but you do not want the abscess to spread to your brain and cause even bigger – and possibly fatal – problems. See your dentist or get yourself to a hospital emergency room if the pain becomes too much to bear.  

3. Shoulder pain

If you experience pain from the front of your shoulder to your arms when you lift your arms, reach for something, or even when you are at rest, it may point to an impingement in your shoulder. This condition sees your shoulder rotator cuff tendons intermittently trapped and compressed during shoulder movements. This causes injury to the shoulder tendons and bursa – the fluid-filled sac around the joint – resulting in pain whenever you lift your arms.

There are many possible explanations for shoulder impingement, but the majority stem from poor posture, says Samuel Ong, a physiotherapist at Core Concepts. If you engage in physical activities that require you to swing or lift your arms, such as golf, tennis, baseball, or swimming, then your injury may be due to repeated overhead arm movements. 

Don’t wait until the pain is excruciating before you seek medical attention. Samuel says that, without proper assessment, diagnosis and treatment, immobility from the pain may eventually lead to a frozen shoulder. This condition, also called Adhesive Capsulitis is more common in women than men and may take up to two years to heal. 

4. Chest pain

If your chest pain is accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, tightness or heaviness, nausea, or loss of consciousness, seek medical attention immediately. Pain in this area of your body may indicate angina, which is a sign of coronary artery disease, or a heart attack. Rarely, chest pain may also signal a blood clot that has travelled to your lung. In either case, you do not want to delay medical assistance. 

Image: katrinaelena / 123rf

5. Stomach pain

A sharp and unexpected pain around your belly button may point to a number of problems, from appendicitis, irritable bowel syndrome, gallstones, or diverticulitis, which is inflammation in the large intestine. More seriously, but rarely, it could be a sign of an aortic rupture, or a perforation of your stomach or intestine as a result of an ulcer.   

While all these conditions sound serious and scary, this is not to say that you should be running to your doctor every time your stomach hurts. But you should definitely consult a physician if the pain lasts more than three days, if it is accompanied by chest pain, nausea or vomiting, if it is so severe that you can barely function, and if your stomach feels swollen and tender. 

6. Lower back pain

Also called Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES), this is a sharp pain that occurs in the lower back and that goes down both legs. The condition affects a bundle of nerve roots – called cauda equina – that are located at the lower end of your spinal cord. These nerves are very important as they send and receive signals to and from your legs, feet and pelvic organs. 

Samuel says that, if the pain is accompanied by urinary and bowel incontinence, or pain, numbness or weakness in one or both of your legs, see a doctor right away, as you may need surgical intervention. CES is the result of a severe disc bulge or herniation that is compressing upon the central spinal cord. If you don’t get it seen to fast enough, it can cause lasting damage and possibly permanent paralysis of the legs. 

7. Knee pain

A sore knee every now and again is to be expected, especially if you are physically active or always on your feet. But you should consult your doctor if you experience pain inside, outside, or at the front of your knees, and particularly while you are carrying out weight-bearing activities, like walking, squatting, and climbing up and down stairs. If the pain is accompanied by swelling and limitations in range of motion, then it’s quite possible that you are suffering from arthritis in this part of your leg. 

Osteoarthritis, if left untreated, can lead to the formation of bone deformities such as bow-legged or knock knees – seen as an abnormal curvature of the lower legs, says Samuel. The drug- and surgical-free treatment, apostherapy can be used to treat osteoarthritis, but in severe cases, you may need surgical intervention to correct the alignment. 

8. Leg or calf pain

If you have recently had surgery, are recuperating from an injury or are on birth control and you experience pain in your lower leg or thigh, you should see your doctor right away. Sure, it could be a regular harmless cramp or a pulled muscle, but it’s important to rule out deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), a rare but serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the body. 

Medical intervention, possibly in the form of blood thinners, is crucial to prevent the blood clot from breaking off and travelling through your bloodstream, where it can travel to your lungs and cause a sudden blockage in a lung artery. This blockage, called pulmonary embolism can be fatal. But even if the clot does not break off, it can cause chronic painful swelling in the leg, and this, in turn, can lead to complications like cellulitis, a horrible skin infection.