From sharp headaches to leg cramps: 16 pains you should definitely not ignore.

You know when you feel a random pain in your body and you kinda just pause for a bit, let it wash over you and think... 'That was weird'? And then you continue to go about your daily business like nothing ever happened? 


"It can sometimes be a bit tricky to know when you need to seek medical advice for a sneaky new pain or strange symptom, or when to just toughen up, take a Panadol or two and sleep it off," said registered nurse Madeline Calfas, founder of The Wellness Group and co-founder of GMC Cosmedical.

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"The following symptoms are ones that we should always get checked though, as they can sometimes be an indication that something is not quite right."

So, in no particular order, here are 16 pains you should never ever ignore.

1. Chest pain - with or without pain down the arm.

We don't want to alarm you, but pain that spreads across the chest is generally not a good thing to have.

"It may seem quite obvious, but a sudden onset of chest pain can be an indication of a heart attack," said Calfas. 

"This can often be a bit of a tricky one, as a muscular spasm of the intercostal muscles (the muscles in between your ribs) can also be a cause for chest pain, but a heavy feeling like someone is sitting on your chest is a definite reason to get medical attention, and fast."

If you experience a sharp pain behind your breastbone, with or without pain to your shoulders and down your arms, you should immediately seek the help of a medical professional.

2. Really bad heartburn.

Calfas said bad heartburn, "especially combined with nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath and pain in the neck, jaw, back or shoulders," could indicate a heart attack.

"These symptoms are particularly important in women, as this is quite often how a heart attack will present in women. Women are far less likely to experience the chest-crushing sensation and pain down the left arm that men typically experience, and as a result are far less likely to seek medical attention," she said.

3. A quick onset headache.

Headaches can mean a bunch of different things, because different kinds can have their own set of symptoms. If you're going about your day and you're suddenly struck by a sharp pain in your head, you should seek medical help. 


"We are talking about not your normal hangover headache here, but a sudden sharp, stabbing or searing pain that literally takes your breath away and makes you sit down," said Calfas. 

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"There are several potential causes for this symptom - a burst aneurysm in your brain that is now bleeding, stroke, meningitis or carbon monoxide poisoning. Less frequently this can be a symptom of a brain tumour or glaucoma."

4. Pain when you pee.

Calfas said this is especially troublesome if it doesn’t start to settle. 

"Usually this is thought to be a UTI (urinary tract infection), which needs to be medically treated if it doesn’t start to settle with over the counter treatments - as it can develop into kidney and bladder infections, and can even possibly lead to infertility," she said.

"Persistent pain on urination can also be a sign of an STI (sexually transmitted infection), in particular gonorrhoea."

5. Dull pain in the mid-back.

Does this sound familiar? While most people associate this with muscular or skeletal pain, a dull pain in the mid-back could indicate a serious problem with your kidneys. 

Those who suffer from things like kidney stones and kidney infections often suffer from this intense pain in the lower back. For something like that, it's best to see you doctor as soon as you can.

6. Tooth pain when you drink something cold. 

If you're experiencing tooth pain every time you throw back a cold drink, this could be more than an annoyance.

"Cold drinks sparking tooth pain can point to receding gums, which is a condition not to ignore as this means the foundational bone around the teeth is eroding - not just the gums," said Dr Aodhan Docherty from About Smiles.

Image: Getty


"This pain could also be associated with a cavity - a hole caused by bugs/bacteria burrowing into the tooth and eating it. This shouldn't be ignored either, as this means the tooth may need to be removed or you might need a root canal treatment," said Dr Docherty.

7. Pain that starts in the lower back and goes down to the legs.

Experiencing a sharp, stabbing or burning pain in your lower back that goes down through your legs? You might be suffering from something called sciatica. 

This is commonly brought on by injury or pressure on the sciatic nerve. The best thing to do is to head to your GP and discuss pain management and treatment options - because this kinda thing won't get better on its own.

If you're also experiencing weakness in your legs, or issues with your bladder (incontinence, weakness etc.), this may point to a rare disorder called cauda equina syndrome, which can cause permanent paralysis.

8. Pain in the lower right of your stomach.

"This can be a cramping pain, a dull ache that won't go away or a sharp stabbing pain," said Calfas. "It can come with a side of nausea and fever as well."

So, what is it then?

"This is more often a sign of appendicitis, and needs immediate medical attention or there is a big chance the appendix could rupture (burst) and allow sepsis to develop, which can be fatal."

"Another potential cause of this kind of pain can also be ovarian cysts, or even ovarian torsion (twisting of the ovary). Ovarian cysts are generally not very worrying, but need to be checked to rule out anything more sinister going on. A twisted ovary can result in the ovary strangling itself and becoming necrotic, which can lead to sepsis."

If these symptoms sound familiar, head to your doctor as you may need to go to the hospital for immediate surgery. 

9. Sudden severe swelling and pain in the testicle.

"Just like ovaries can twist and strangulate themselves, the testicles can as well," Calfas said. "A torted testicle is a medical emergency before the loss of blood flow to the testicle results in the death of the testicle and can affect fertility."

So, yeah - this is something you don't want to mess around with. If you experience any of these symptoms, it's best to seek medical help right away.

10. Pain in the pelvis or abdomen.

If you're a woman with ovaries, menstrual cramps are just something you deal with on the reg (us lucky things!). But if they become persistently worse or won't go away, there could be an issue.

"Like chest pain, this can be a tough one to know when to seek medical advice, as it is not uncommon to have pain and cramping when you have your period," said Calfas. "However, pain that leaves you doubled over and screaming for a hysterectomy, makes you take time off work or school and is not improved by normal over the counter medication, is something you need to discuss with your gynaecologist."


Calfas said this can often be a sign of endometriosis, which is when the lining of the uterus also grows outside the uterus.  

Image: Getty

"Persistent pelvic pain can also be an indication of Pelvic Congestion Syndrome, which is an issue with the veins in your pelvis region. It’s almost like varicose veins, but in your pelvis. Any type of pelvic pain that lasts longer than six months (and it can be intermittent, so only when you have your period) needs to be investigated," she said.

11. A pain in one calf.

"This can be either a sharp pain, or a constant dull throbbing pain, and can be a sign of a Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT usually occurs after you have been sitting still for a long period of time (think long-haul flights, and long periods of being bed-bound)," said Calfas.

"They can also occur after you have had an injury to that leg or foot - a broken bone or torn ligament. Any injury such as this can result in a blood clot forming in the surrounding tissue, which carries the risk of travelling into your bloodstream and up to your heart, lungs and brain, which lead to a stroke and may be fatal."

While your first instinct may be to massage the area, it is recommended NOT to do this - as there is a risk the blood clot can break and travel through your blood vessels to your heart or lungs.

12. Sharp stabbing or burning pain in your big toe.

While it may sound a little random, pain in your big toe might actually mean something.

"This can often be an indication of gout, which is the collection of uric acid crystals in your joints. A look at these crystals under an electron microscope will show these crystals have razor-sharp edges, which is what is responsible for the sharp pain," explained Calfas.


"If left untreated, gout can also begin to affect other joints throughout the body, which can make walking or even moving incredibly painful."


13. Pins and needles in your arms and legs.

If you experience pins and needles after lying on the couch watching telly - don't stress. This is something that is temporary and will often resolve itself quite quickly. 

However, if you're constantly experiencing tingling in your arms and legs without reason, or finding your feet are often numb or have a burning sensation - you may have nerve damage. This is something most commonly caused by diabetes. In this instance, you should visit your doctor for a blood glucose test.

14. Sharp pains through your hand and wrist.

If you have a sharp pain or numbing sensation in your fingers (particularly the thumb, index finger, and middle finger) that spreads to your palm, wrist and forearm, you could have carpel tunnel syndrome. This is usually caused by repetitive hand movements (like computer work). 

If you notice these symptoms, it's best to see a doctor as soon as possible as your hand muscles might shrink and it could lead to loss of function in your hand.

15. Severe abdominal pain in the upper/middle part of your stomach. 

If you're experiencing some intense pain in the middle/upper part of your stomach, you might have pancreatitis.

"This can again be accompanied with nausea, vomiting and fever, and can be a sign of acute pancreatitis, which could be caused by gall stones, or sometimes something more sinister," said Calfas.

16. Sudden eye pain.

Pain in and around the eye can have many causes, however if you have a sudden onset of eye pain, that rings major alarm bells. 

This pain could be caused by a blocked blood vessel, internal bleeding in the eye or acute glaucoma (a serious condition caused by increased pressure on the eye) - all things that should be investigated immediately. Eye pain can also be the first symptom of shingles - a viral infection which causes a painful rash and blisters on the skin.

Moral of the story? If you're hurting, see a doctor.

"No one wants to be thought of as a hypochondriac, or someone who likes the sympathy of being sick, and nine times out of 10 your symptoms will turn out to be nothing of great importance," said Calfas.

"But the most important thing is to trust your instincts. If you suspect something isn’t right, speak up, even if it means going to see four different doctors. Just remember, when in doubt, get it checked out."

Feature image: Getty

Have you ever experienced any of the above pains? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.