4 Pains You Should Never Ignore

Minor aches and pains are part of life for most of us—a tension headache here, an upset stomach there.

But when is pain a signal that something might really be wrong? And how do you tell the difference between a mere annoyance and a warning sign? Below are four pains not to ignore:

1. Ankle pain

Most sprains and twists respond well to a couple of days of ice and rest. But if your sprained ankle continues to hurt, it's a signal that you need to see a doctor. Don't continue to exercise through the pain, thinking it will go away. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, many people underestimate the severity of their sprain and end up making things worse. The result? Cartilage and bone damage and, eventually, arthritis. Surgery may also be necessary.

2. Abdominal pain

Abdominal pain can be difficult to figure out because its causes range from the benign (too much rich food) to the dangerous (cancer). And because there are so many organs packed into the abdominal cavity, the source is not always obvious. In fact, abdominal pain doesn't even have to be caused by abdominal problems. Sometimes it's caused by heart attack or lung infection. While it's not necessary to call your doctor for mild pain that comes and goes, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends that you definitely alert him or her if your pain is severe, chronic, or accompanied by diarrhea, unrelenting constipation, vomiting, abdominal tenderness, or abdominal swelling.

3. Knee pain

It's not uncommon for new or out-of-condition exercisers to hurt their knees. Resting the knee, icing it, wrapping it in a compression bandage and keeping it elevated will go a long way toward calming any minor injuries. But if after three to seven days there's no improvement in your knee, see a doctor. And call sooner if you can't put weight on your knee, have obvious swelling or deformity, experience severe pain, or are running a fever.

4. Headache

Headaches, usually caused by tension or stress, can be eased by lifestyle changes as well as over-the-counter pain relievers. But if you're suddenly getting headaches after a history of not having them, or they come on intensely and are excruciating, definitely speak with your doctor. Other warning signs: progressively worse headache, memory loss, fever, or headache following a head injury.




Hospital for Special Surgery, www.hss.edu

American College of Gastroenterology, www.gi.org

Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com

National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov